LOTRO: Concerning Hobbits

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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

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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.

Battle Bards Episode 93: It’s a madhouse!

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It’s taken this long, but the Battle Bards have gone completely and irreversibly insane in the membrane! Today the team cracks open the door of the MMO music funhouse to see what off-kilter, crazy, and manic tunes may be found. WARNING: Once you’ve entered the asylum, you might find yourself a resident… for life!

Episode 93 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Cutely Grotesque and Certifiably Insane” from WildStar, “The Dream Palace” from The Secret World, and “Mischief” from Infinite Crisis)
  • “The Lunatic Court” from Guild Wars 2
  • “Woman Peeling Potatoes” from Tree of Savior
  • “Steel Rose” from Aion
  • “The Vault (Joker’s Funhouse)” from DC Universe Online
  • “Select a Sim 2” from The Sims Online
  • “The Haunted Manor” from Final Fantasy XIV
  • “Dirge of the Damned” from Glitch
  • Which one did we like the best?
  • Jukebox picks: “Tailor Made” from Lemmings (SNES), “Main Theme” from Robinson the Journey, and “Delphinus Delphis” from Abzu
  • Outro (feat. “Dark Astoria Raimi Arcade” from City of Heroes)

Drooling over Ashes of Creation

When it comes to anticipating upcoming MMOs (and yes, there ARE upcoming MMOs), I have two lists. The first one is a list of potential interests, games that I’m nominally intrigued about but am reserving a lot of judgment until they’re much closer to launch and start to prove themselves. Games such as Chronicles of Elyria, any of the City of Heroes knock-offs, Crowfall, Star Citizen, and World Adrift. They may be good, they may not be, they may be right up my alley, and they may be fine games that just don’t turn out to be my thing. It’s a really uncertain category.

The second list is much shorter and concerns titles that I am much more confident about and interested in. Project Gorgon heads up this list, obviously, and after that is Sea of Thieves and maybe Peria Online and Master X Master. I’m waffling on two more titles, New World and Ashes of Creation, that probably logically belong in the first category but I’m far more excited about them than most early development titles.

In Ashes of Creation’s case, this out-of-nowhere MMO is definitely hitting a lot of the sweet spots to stir up my appetite. We’re getting lots of solid dev diaries and plenty of great videos that show a game that looks much further along than I would expect. To be sure, it’s probably a heavily doctored, very limited demo in scope, but… look at that thing! I love how it begins with a walk through a town and shows some other NPCs in action. The spell effects are bedazzling, and the UI, for as early as it is, has a nice, clean design to it.

Ashes is most definitely on my watch list, and I think the team is doing a great job priming interest for the inevitable Kickstarter. This just might be the second game I’ll ever crowdfund, unless I can get my fanboy hype under control. Maybe I’ve been too starved for strong upcoming MMORPGs that I’ll just leap to the first one I see, but dang, this game looks fantastic so far. More please!

TSW: The relaunch heard ’round Agartha

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I’m still reeling a bit from the big news that Funcom is going to “relaunch” The Secret World over the first part of this year (starting in late March). Part of the difficulty of getting my head around this is that the only news we have of this is from Funcom’s financial report and not, say, a lengthy producer’s letter (which definitely NEEDS to be posted in the next day or so at this point). So we have the broad outline but not the specifics or any other details.

From the bullet points listed above, it mainly seems aimed at bringing in new players and those who have been turned off from the game (particularly from its combat system). The business model will switch from buy-to-play to what sounds like free-to-play, which is full of question marks. It’s not as though TSW was that expensive to start with, but ditching the DLC model for straight-up F2P definitely will make it accessible for all. It’s not as if TSW has put out a lot of content over the past year, and so it hasn’t had a lot of new content to sell.

I’m… tentatively excited about all of this, if only that TSW is going to get some nice promotion and is being given some much-needed attention from Funcom. Better combat? I’m on board for that. The business model change worries me, because that sort of thing can be done right or very, very wrong, and if it’s the latter, the game’s reputation will go into the crapper. At least Funcom anticipates that these changes will boost revenue, and that has the potential to ensure TSW’s continued development and existence, which I’m all in favor for.

There’s a lot more that I want to know here, with the biggest being “WHAT ABOUT NEW CONTENT?!?!?!?” Seriously, Funcom, it’s been just about forever since we had new missions, and we’ve been strutting around Tokyo for two years now. It’s time to move on, and I want to hear the devs say that there’s not only going to be new missions but also a faster delivery of mission content.

My imagination is revving up about how combat could be improved, but ditching the builder/finisher system for starters would be terrific. Better animations? Improved sound? Yeah, those too. Oh, and let’s use this opportunity to kill AEGIS and pretend that it was never invented, OK?

Argh. Need more info! But still glad to see TSW getting a vote of confidence from Funcom (unlike Anarchy Online and Age of Conan, which have been effectively back burnered from here on out).

The Secret World: Just the worst quest ever, that’s all (Besieged Farmlands #9)

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(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!)

The Girl Who Kicked the Vampire’s Nest (action mission)

There’s a good reason why, when you hear Secret World players discussing their favorite NPCs and missions, that Transylvania’s Zaha never comes up. It doesn’t help that she’s pretty dull, characterization-wise, but it really doesn’t help that both of her missions are frustrating and deal with the local vampire headquarters. We’ll have to do the less-annoying one first, which is an action mission to assault the camp’s strengths and weaknesses and put the vamps out of business, at least temporarily.

For all of Zaha’s talk of being this kick-butt vampire fighter, she sure does a lot of standing there with binoculars while I’m the one going in and saving the day single-handedly. I’ve heard this mission mentioned as one of the game’s worst, but I’d have to disagree. It’s not particularly hard, just very long and very repetitive. The vamp has a packed mob density, so being able to walk carefully and take out groups quickly is essential. Fortunately, I can do both.

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I have… no idea why the vampires build stuff that looks like it’s set dressing for Silent Hill, but they do and it’s very weird. Like rusty industrial with few handrails.

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I kill wave after wave of mobs, disable trucks, destroy supplies, eliminate blood supplies, and target their leaders. One tent shows me that these vamps have serious firepower at the ready — more than enough to conquer the region, if they have the discipline and know-how to drive these vehicles.

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What is interesting about this mission to me, at least, is how it paints a wordless picture of vampire society and organization. The use of Soviet tech, lots of industrial machines and metal, and brutal practicality is a far cry from the gothic vampires that we often get. There is no romanticizing any of this, no “gee I hope I get bit and gain vampire powers.” It’s vampires as nightmares, which is proper.

On my way out of the leader’s tent, I steal a supposedly important box containing a Blood Sample (side mission) to give to the Vampire Hunter. He thanks me, gives me a hug, and we go to Krispy Kreme to celebrate the beginning of our lifelong friendship.

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Bearing Gifts (side mission)

What do you get the girl who has everything and loves to criticize how non-stealthy you’re being? An ornate dagger that’s been plunged into the back of a warden of the forest, apparently. Here you go, Zaha. Feel free to stab me with it.

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The Cost of Magic (sabotage mission)

Here’s a fun game to play: Find a friend who is a Secret World player, simply say “Cost of Magic” to him or her, and then watch their response. And oh yes, there will be a response. Recoil, hissing, rolled eyes, grunts, PTSD flashbacks, the works. In an MMO where there are a lot of very challenging, very difficult missions, The Cost of Magic is one of the most notoriously hard quests to complete — and most assuredly very frustrating as well. I doubt it’s the hardest the game has to offer, but it’s definitely in the top five. Top three, even.

So what’s the deal with this quest? Well, if you’ve played the game you need no explanation here, and if you haven’t, you might think that we are whining a bit here. Let me reassure you, it’s worthy of its reputation.

Let’s highlight the main reasons why Cost of Magic is so hard and hated:

  1. It’s a sabotage (i.e. sneaking) mission, so combat is useless
  2. It’s very punishing, with ways that keep setting you all the way back to the beginning of each stage
  3. It’s quite long, with four sections that are each their own monumental challenge
  4. It’s far more platform-y than you get in most MMOs or even in most of the rest of this game
  5. It sucks.

Zaha wants me to gather ingredients for a magic ritual, but said ingredients are in the worst places possible. The first stage (my most hated one) involves going up on these illogical walkways in the sky where there are landmines, vampires that use a skill to push you right off the edge, and giant mobs that one- or two-hit you to death. I’ve never been able to master this part properly, relying mostly on luck and a lot of corpse runs to finally get to the ladder reaching the top.

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Proof! But before you get to this point? You will fall and die and fall and die and fall and start to construct voodoo dolls of Funcom developers and die and fall and die. I’ve seen some players say that this part is pretty easy once you get the pattern down right, but I’m not quite there after playing this only two times and I’m not eager to keep practicing after this.

Stage two has you trying to nab a heart from the middle of a poison swamp with patroling ghouls. There’s a back way in, and I was actually able to dart in, get the heart, and port out without a problem. Easiest step yet.

Stage three is… well, you know how there are always those deranged devs that love jumping portions?

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JUMPING STAGE!!!!1!

Yeah so you have to make your way up to the top of this rock by leaping onto floating magical disks that curve around. They’re timed and disappear after a while, plus you can only make these jumps at a full sprint, so you don’t have as much control as you would merely running. I won’t embarrass myself by telling you how many times I fell here.

20.

OK?

I fell 20 times. I do not do well on platforming bits.

The fourth stage is an obstacle course of sorts with land mines, punji pits, grenade trip wires, and invincible one-shotting patrolling golems. That I only died three times on this seems like a minor miracle.

But I did it. Took me about an hour this time around, much faster than last time, but I did it. And now that I’ve faced this horror twice in my life, never again. Do you hear me game? NEVER AGAIN.

Screenshot Saturday: RIFT, TSW, LOTRO

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Screenshot Saturday is a feature in which I post a choice selection of screenshots from my gaming adventures from the past week.

So let’s kick off this inaugural edition of Screenshot Saturday with my new snail racing mount in RIFT. Coolest and strangest mount that I’ve ever gotten in an MMO? Quite possibly! It was a gift from @Zyngor, who graciously sent me a spare code for this slimy wonder.

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Vampire Hunter takes out a backstabbing vamp with a crossbow bolt to the eye. Ouch.

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Body parts stuffed into a haystack in Transylvania. Why? Just… why?

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I love how warm and homey Bilbo’s kitchen is in Bag End. Wish there was more food, though.

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The funeral pyre post-Pelennor Fields is a sight to behold. Was an important interlude before the next stage of our journeys.

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Some friends invited me to do a raid skirmish in LOTRO last week, to mixed results. On the final fight, we plopped down all the banners. ALL the banners. It was like going to a rave.

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Taking a breather on the shores of the great river Anduin and realizing that I’m now the furthest I’ve ever been in the game. Still so pretty.