I got LOTRO’s goat

There’s a really weird feeling when you’ve been pursuing a goal for a while, being diligent about your progress… and then you finally reach it. It’s both elating and disquieting. An abrupt end to your quest but also an end to a routine. Time to shift gears!

So I finally maxed out reputation with LOTRO’s Ale Association, netting me one booze-fueled goat. I love him as much as I did when I had him on my Captain (his name is Tricksy, which is perfect), but that also means that I’m able to detach from the daily AA run and get back to straight-up questing and leveling.

In bits and pieces over the past few weeks, I wrapped up the Shire — all of its quests and even all of its deeds. I hadn’t planned the latter, but I was so close by the time I was done questing that I figured why not. Got me some extra rewards. Then I zipped over to Ered Luin to do a few virtue deeds, which took a couple of nights. Not going to clean up that zone (no reason to and it’s not my favorite), so I’m getting back on course by going to Bree.

I’m way overleveled for Bree-land right now. I hit 21 just doing Shire and AA dailies, haven’t died yet, and have a few nice outfits put together from what I’ve found or gotten from Hobbit presents. Bree-land is kind of a messy zone because you can enter it from different paths, so I have quests spread out all over the place. I’m going to focus on exploring and doing missions in Bree, then head back to Buckland for a chunk of quests (and Bingo Boffin stuffs) before diving into the Old Forest.

The Hunter class has grown on me. It’s very simple and straight-forward, but that’s not a bad thing when you’ve been handling more advanced classes for years. One-shotting bad guys from afar is a happy joy (and thank goodness LOTRO automatically picks up your loot), and Hunter mobility is second to none. Faster run speed, can attack while moving, and the promise of future maps all keep me rolling along.

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Nostalgia Lane: Age of Empires II

I clearly recall visiting my family in Indiana in fall of 1999 while clutching a game manual in my hands. Just the day before, I had picked up a copy of the new Age of Empires II, and it was killing me to not be able to play for a few days (although family visitation was good and all that). So resolved to study the manual cover-to-cover as a balm to sooth my anxiety.

The late 1990s and early 2000s were my RTS period, and what a glorious era that was. There were so many of those games out by then, but then along came Microsoft and there went a few months of my life, woosh, sucked right into Age of Empires II.

Coming from a background playing the Civilization games, I was perfectly primed to receive AoE2 with open arms. It was kind of a micro-civilization fantasy simulator, where you could slap together various cultures on a map and then race to build up your kingdom before raising armies to send out conquering forces.

The hook of this game was that each of the 13 civilizations would progress through four ages, from the Dark Age to the Renaissance, with each successive age providing new building and troop options. So you always had to balance building up your current age while putting aside some resources to move on to the next one. Fall behind, and the other civs with their advanced technology could end up steamrolling you.

Age of Empires II was so polished and played so smoothly that I held it up as the gold standard to similar games afterward. It was all of the little things that made this enjoyable, including sending peasants out to forage bushes for food to creating crazy armies of troops to see how they’d fare against other civs. Want a rank of primitive musketeers to fight war elephants? This was the game for you.

It cut out the turn-by-turn slowness of Civilization to give more of the flavor of progression and focus more on war and conquest. I was glad to hear that it got an HD remake a few years back — and a few new expansions, it looks like! — and I’m definitely psyched to hear that Age of Empires IV is in the works. The third game was enjoyable, but its New World focus felt very different than the other entries. I’m looking forward to heading back to the classic structure of civilization- and era-jumping.

LOTRO: Enter the Lonely Mountain

Now that I’ve hit level 110 on my Lore-master, I was invited to join in the new reputation Allegiance system that constitutes some of LOTRO’s new endgame activities. You get a choice of which of the four main races of Free Peoples you’d like to support — Dwarves, Man, Elves, or Hobbits — and naturally I went with Elves.

Yeahhhhh…. no, not really. Actually I couldn’t resist jumping at the Dwarf option, because that gets you sent to one of the most iconic locations in all of Middle-earth, Erebor (AKA the Lonely Mountain). Outside of an instance or two, we haven’t gotten to see much to the far east, and I really wanted to see what this Dwarf capital looked like.

Of course, it’s all interior; that exterior shot up there is only a loading screen. Alas.

The entrance hall to Erebor is appropriately impressive, a massive single chamber that is several football fields long and contains second stories here and there. I do wish that you could ride mounts (goats at least?) due to the sheer size going on, because running up and down is a time-consuming activity.

One neat touch: An indoor river and waterfall flowing to the one side of the hall.

After so many years of primarily questing in human regions, it’s really cool to visit Dwarves and their architecture once again. Erebor is kind of like a brand-new, not-wrecked-and-corrupted Moria. I’m sure they reused a lot of stuff from Moria, but it still looks pretty awesome.

Lots of massive statues, banners, and everything dwarfing (har har) players running around. I kept wondering how actual Dwarves could build this without thousands being killed in the construction process.

There were, of course, plenty of feasting areas. It was so much more homey than Moria, although it wasn’t untouched by war. At this point in the timeline, the Dwarves had been under siege by the Easterlings and had only managed to rally and counterattack when Sauron fell. This is why, I learned, that the Dwarves weren’t sending any armies or help down south to fight.

The weirdest thing in this hall was a morbidly obese Dwarf who kept asking to shovel more food in his mouth even though he couldn’t lower his arms (which I suspect might be a graphic bug). But seriously, fattest Dwarf ever.

The hall is also recovering from the loss of the previous ruler — King Dáin — who fell in the fighting. He was succeeded by his son, Thorin III Stonehelm, who some see as a coward who retreated in the battle. Even though it helped them win. But oh well.

A larger perspective of the throne area. Very grand and moustachy.

Even Dwarves know how to kick loose and have some fun! I don’t recall any Dwarves partying in Moria, so it was nice to see this small band entertaining the locals.

Under the radar: Worlds Adrift and Dual Universe

I hear the occasional moaning about not having upcoming MMOs to look forward to playing, and while I sort of understand the sentiment, I don’t share it. There’s quite a few games coming down the pipeline that are of varying degrees of interest to me, including co-op multiplayer titles (Sea of Thieves, Dauntless), indie MMOs (Project Gorgon, Shroud of the Avatar), sandboxes (Wild West Online), and big-budget projects (Ashes of Creation, Amazon’s New World).

But today I want to talk about two games that I felt have been flying under the radar for a while — and that may end up surprising us all.

I’ve been aware of Worlds Adrift and Dual Universe ever since both of their crowdfunding campaigns, of course, but you have to understand that through Massively OP, I follow a LOT of games. As in, I have passing knowledge of plenty of them, and am not always personally invested in them. Games end up lumped in the same “not for me” bucket until or unless they stand out in some way. Maybe that’s a hook early on, or perhaps a growing reputation, or maybe it takes me actually taking time to gets some hands-on play with it for this to happen.

Recently I’ve upgraded my interest in both of these games after having watched so many of their videos and covering plenty of their dev blogs. It’s kind of interesting how much both titles have in common: They’re sandbox MMOs with a strong emphasis on player creativity, giving you the option to build your own ship, crafting out the wazoo, and allowing you to explore various worlds/floating islands. Worlds Adrift is more steampunk to Dual Universe’s sci-fi bent, but I can’t help but see a lot of crossover here. Plus they’re both bona fide MMORPGs in an era where that term has gotten watered down.

Worlds Adrift has been impressing me with its art style (which is kind of cel-shaded), the emphasis on fun (grappling hooks!), and the “combat archaeology” angle. You’ll build and pilot your own airship between islands of a shattered world, navigating stormwalls to get to the next biomes, and trying to stay afloat. The alpha right now has given players tools to build their own islands and items, and I think the team is taking the best of these to incorporate into the game itself, which is a great idea.

Bossa Studios has some serious talent behind it — and funding as well. Plus, Worlds Adrift has hitched its pony to the SpatialOS platform, which seems to be the Next Big Thing in software development, especially for MMO teams. These devs are swinging for the fences, and I am at the very least sitting in the bleachers with my chin on my fist, eyes affixed to see what happens.

Meanwhile, Dual Universe has grown in my esteem as a viable option for a space sim, especially because the whole Star Citizen scene is too full of drama and uncertainty, and Elite Dangerous just doesn’t seem like my kind of game. With DU, you get to build your own ship with a voxel toolset and then take it planet hopping. That’s kind of all I want.

It just got a $3.7M injection of investment, which is not small potatoes for an indie game (it earned $630K from Kickstarter last year). The graphics have gone from ugh to acceptable over the past year as well.

I guess another deciding factor is that both of these games, while containing PvP, seem much more PvE friendly than the vibes that I’m getting from a lot of other indie MMOs in development. With more emphasis on creation, exploration, and crafting, they seem like worlds that could nurture the makers in us.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to trying out both of these come launch, whenever that may be. Probably not for a while, but that’s OK.

In which Syp realizes that there’s an easier way to grind LOTRO festival tokens

Yesterday the Famer’s Faire kicked off in LOTRO, a mere two days after the ending of the Summer Festival. This was good news for me, as I wasn’t yet done with grinding the rest of my Ale Association rep to get my goat — only two more days to go now! — and this would allow me to finish up.

But I looked at everyone getting into a frenzy over the festival and felt my heart sink a little. I never really liked the Farmer’s Faire. The concept is OK, I guess, but the activities aren’t that interesting to me. And when it comes to doing festivals, generally I want to go with the easiest possible route to tokenville for rewards UNLESS there is an activity that is fun to do on its own merit. The Haunted Burrow? The snowball fight? Fun things that I actually want to do. Not so much with any of the offerings with the Farmer’s Faire.

My dilemma was that there were a few cosmetics that I kind of wanted, and that meant that I had to tack on FF activities on top of my AA dailies, which would leave very little time for anything else. Or would it?

One thing that I totally overlooked until just yesterday was that there is an Ale Association vendor who exchanges badges of dishonor (the AA quest rewards) for any type of festival token you like. Any. Type. I had such tunnel vision for that goat that this didn’t sink in, but when it did, it was a major light bulb going off over my head.

I already had an optimized, memorized route for AA dailies. I could exchange the rewards for those dailies for any festival tokens, current or future. And I could get all of the cosmetic, pet, and housing rewards that I wanted. BINGO.

This revelation, as minor as it may seem, really lifted my spirits. I’m going to take advantage of the rest of this festival period by getting my AA dailies in, even past when I hit kindred, and use the leftover tokens to set my little Hobbit up and then stock up for the fall and winter festivals. Woo!

6 of my favorite pets from RIFT

Time for another installment of Syp’s favorite MMORPG pets, with a focus on RIFT. I am particularly fond of this game and its array of non-combat pets (combat pet choice is another deal), with so many to collect and really fun ones to employ. Here are the six I tend to favor the most!

1. Bernie

Bernie is one of the ugliest and oddest pets in the game. He’s a reward for doing the Ember Isle puzzle quest, a feat well worth it to get this weirdo. Bernie is pretty big for a pet, a lumpy and vaguely Kung Fu master-looking guy who smokes a pipe while you’re not running and wheezes loudly if he’s asked to jog anywhere. His huffing and puffing are probably what endear him to me more than anything else.

2. Ducklar

I got Ducklar from a convention code several years back, and for a while after, he was one of the more rare pets in the game. Kind of a neat feeling to have a pet that almost no one else does (although this has undoubtedly changed in the meantime). Rarity aside, he rocks because ducks are wonderful and he does this little waddle dance that never fails to make my kids break out in giggles.

3. Courage

In my opinion, there are never enough dog pets in MMOs (cats seem to have better agents). But RIFT has a well-known obsession with corgis — blame Scott Hartsman, who reportedly owns one — and for a while they were (are?) the unofficial mascot of the game. I just like this little guy. He’s cute, he’s always wagging his tail and lolling out his tongue, and once in a while he scratches his ear with his hind paw. Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy?

4. Harbinger of Regulos

This is one of the earliest pets that I got — and one of my earliest rares as well. It’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek joke, that the Harbinger of Regulos (the big bad guy of the game) is… a little purple bunny. A glowing bunny, glowing with evil no doubt, but still. A bunny. Probably a nod to Monty Python too.

5. Spirit of Tears

I’m not a cat guy in the least, but I went out of my way to get this pet because its acquisition process is darkly hilarious. The ghostly Spirit of Tears can only be obtained by killing an array of specific defenseless critters — squirrels, cats, deer, etc. — and harvesting their tears to complete a morbid artifact set. If you have this pet out, it’s like you’re painting yourself as an animal killer. But in a fun way? I guess?

6. Winston

Honey badger memes aside, I simply like Winston. He’s cute, he paws at the ground, and he’s fiercely loyal. Wish he was a combat pet that I could fling at an enemy’s face and enjoy seeing them flail about while he mauls into their eyes, but at least I can imagine it while he’s trotting alongside of me.

LOTRO: The Ale Association is making me into a horrible role model

At this point I’m pretty well entrenched in my self-imposed “dailies” for Lord of the Rings Online, working toward capping out the Ale Association by the time that the summer and famer’s faire festivals end. I’ve probably got another two weeks of 30-40 min/day dailies ahead, which I feel is a fair trade-off for a really awesome goat mount that will serve this character well for the rest of the game. Plus, I’m getting some nice XP and will probably come out of this with some cosmetics and housing decor before all is said and done.

As with things of this nature, I’ve long since gotten down the most optimal pattern of running the seven daily quests and make a little game out of seeing how quickly I can do them. I also use the time spent where my character is automatically riding on steeds to tab out and get a few other things done.

Because I’ve been doing these so much this summer, my kids have seen me do them more than once. And since no kid on this planet is capable of silently watching you perform a task, I’ve been peppered with hundreds of questions, mostly pertaining to the morality of what my character is doing.

Now if you’ve never engaged in LOTRO’s Inn League and Ale Association quests, some brief explanation is needed. These are rival beer enthusiast groups that emerge around festival times, with the former being more Hobbit-centered and “nice” and the latter being a bit more underhanded and Dwarfish and “nasty.” Not evil, per se, but kind of like the enemy fraternity of any given college movie. But the thing is that only the Ale Association offers a goat mount as an ultimate reward; the Inn League has a horse, of which I own a dozen or so. I want goats. I’m all about the goats. Plus I think it’s kind of funny for my normally goody two-shoes character to get a little rude.

However: kids. Kids who don’t quite get the subtle spirit and distinction of this faction, and kids who keep pointing out how daddy is being a “meanie-head.”

“Dad, why did you just slap that guy and stick your tongue out at him?” He won’t do as I say, honey.

“Dad, what are you drinking? And why are you drinking so much?” It’s… bubbles, dear. And I’m really thirsty.

“Dad, why are you ruining those big barrels?” BECAUSE DADDY WANTS A PRETTY GOAT IS THAT SO HARD TO UNDERSTAND SWEETHEART?

My kids are now forbidden from being in the same room as me when I’m gaming until September.