Archive for the ‘LotRO’ Tag

MMO Expansions – What Do They Need to Succeed?

As I’ve been playing LotRO again, I’m naturally interested in the upcoming expansion, Rise of Isengard (RoI), coming next month to a computer near you. But this got me to thinking – on a basic level, what do I expect from an expansion in any MMO? I’d posit that the central points are content, new mechanics, and new life. Let’s look at them one at a time. Continue reading

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De profundis clamo ad te, Eru

Well, then. It’s been ages since I posted here. I really need to take shorter naps.

* rim shot *

What the hells happened here? Why so silent for so long? In short, I felt that I was repeating myself. I was starting to feel like a grumpy old man yelling at kids to get off my lawn. I do love writing though, and I do love games, and this blog has been silently accusing me. Staring. Judging.

OK, ok, fine! I’m writing! I’m writing! But… I’m going to try changing my approach here and see how that works for me. Rather than pontificate about general game design issues, I’m going to focus more on the games I’m currently playing. There’s likely to be a bit more of a player perspective than before, but I’ll continue to relate things to the general design issues behind them.

Deal?

Cool. Let’s go. Continue reading

Namárië Endórë!

The only real way we have to meaningfully communicate our feelings with game developers is generally with our wallets.  After long deliberation, I used that simple economic vote to express my feelings about LotRO by canceling both accounts today.

I like a lot of the ideas presented for SoM, especially the skirmish system, which sounds like it could be a lot of fun.  I just haven’t had an interest in playing for the last month and a half though, and I don’t see that changing.  Fundamentally, I remain unhappy with the concept of gear gating (which remains part of the new plan from all I can see; no word to the contrary has been issued), with the disposable legendary items system (which is changing, but is not apparently going to result in less disposable and frankly non-legendary “legendary” items), and with the shoddy state of high level crafting (which used to be both fun and useful, but with the Moria expansion became neither to me; there are some nice recipes but less so than before and they take a LOT more work to get).  The faction grinds are pretty interminable, and I don’t relish getting the Elves of Mirkwood to love even one of my characters, much less several or all.  And finally, as I noted before, the people I played with have changed their approach to the game because of the way the game itself has changed, and now our playstyles don’t mesh very well.

It’s National Novel Writing Month, which I’m 3 days into now with a lot of work ahead of me still.  Dragon Age: Origins is coming out (which I want to play through, and also build modules for), and I still have a lot of fun left to enjoy in Torchlight from the looks of it.  I have a 6- month Champions Online sub and am watching to see how that game develops… I haven’t played it in a while either but might give it another try once they add some more content.  Between all of that and my social life I have more than enough to keep me busy through the end of the year, and though LotRO still has some appeal, it just isn’t enough to motivate me to log in to LotRO anymore.  Perhaps I’ll come back to Middle-earth yet again, perhaps not, but for now I’m wishing it a fond farewell.

Ai! laurië lantar lassi súrinen,
yéni únótimë ve rámar aldaron!
Yéni ve lintë yuldar avánier
mi oromardi lissë-miruvóreva
Andúnë pella, Vardo tellumar
nu luini yassen tintilar i eleni
ómaryo airetári-lírinen.

Sí man i yulma nin enquantuva?

An sí Tintallë Varda Oiolossëo
ve fanyar máryat Elentári ortanë
ar ilyë tier undulávë lumbulë
ar sindanóriello caita mornië
i falmalinnar imbë met,
ar hísië untúpa Calaciryo míri oialë.
Sí vanwa ná, Rómello vanwa, Valimar!
Namárië! Nai hiruvalyë Valimar!
Nai elyë hiruva! Namárië!

Ah! like gold fall the leaves in the wind,
long years numberless as the wings of trees!
The long years have passed like swift draughts
of the sweet mead in lofty halls
beyond the West, beneath the blue vaults of Varda
wherein the stars tremble
in the song of her voice, holy and queenly.

Who now shall refill the cup for me?

For now the Kindler, Varda, the Queen of the stars,
from Mount Everwhite has uplifted her hands like clouds
and all paths are drowned deep in shadow;
and out of a grey country darkness lies
on the foaming waves between us,
and mist covers the jewels of Calacirya for ever.
Now lost, lost to those of the East is Valimar!
Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar!
Maybe even thou shalt find it! Farewell!

LotRO Fast Travel Options

Lord of the Rings Online has a huge, immersive world, and the designers have chosen to limit travel options there in keeping with the lore, and to increase the players’ perception of the world’s size.  I agree with this concept in theory, but in practice I often find that I really want to be able to get places faster.  Consequently I pay a lot of attention to the various travel options in-game.  The zones of Forochel and Eregion treat travel rather differently from the zones that came before, and I’ll focus largely on these two zones here.

First, how did fast travel work before these zones were introduced?  Basically, there were five options for fast travel.  First, all the lowbie zones can be accessed by any character at any time for the low, low price of 1 silver piece (or 80 copper with the new discount for longtime players) by visiting an NPC stable; said stables offer normal travel to close locations and fast travel to all newbie hubs.  This is a spectacular idea and one I warmly welcomed when it was implemented long ago (I think it was in closed beta, might have been shortly after launch though).  This means e.g. a player in Bree can spend 1s and travel very quickly to Michel Delving in the Shire, which in practice means lowbies can easily and cheaply join up and adventure in any of the lowbie zones.  Second, the larger mid-to-high level quest hubs (e.g. Esteldin, Rivendell) have fast travel options that are gated by level – e.g. any character lvl  40+ can fast travel between a stable in South Bree and a stable in Rivendell.  Third, all races have deeds available from lvl 29 onwards that allow characters to jump to their racial home once per hour (Dwarves to Thorin’s Halls, Hobbits to Michel Delving, Men to Bree, Elves to Rivendell).  Fourth, all characters have a map they can use to jump to their bind-spot once per hour; pretty much every quest hub in game offers a milestone one can bind to, so characters can quickly travel to more or less any place they’ve been before.  Fifth and finally, home-owners and members of kinships with kin halls can jump to their homes or kin halls once per hour as well.

While these options are nice, more options are desirable, and with the advent of Forochel, Turbine experimented a bit with a new process.  Subsequently, they decided they didn’t like this idea and scrapped it in favor of a new one, which is found in Eregion (and Moria as well).  I’ve not spent enough time in Lothlorien to be sure what fast travel options exist there so I’ll leave that out of this discussion.

When visiting Forochel, one is quickly struck by two things: first, the zone is massive, and it takes a loooong time to run around, or even to ride from one quest hub to another using the stable horses (NPC travel options).  Second, the zone is blindingly white and full of snow and fog, which increases the player’s perception that travel takes a long time.  Objectively, it’s not really larger than several other zones, but it feels like it is because the player’s view of distant objects is obscured.  Turbine chose to make the fast travel options in Forochel all bound to reputation – so initially, characters have no fast travel to, from, or within Forochel, and options open up the more reputation a character gains with the Lossoth of Forochel, and with the other factions surrounding them.  That is to say, if you want to travel within Forochel, you’d better befriend the Lossoth.  If you want to travel to Forochel from somewhere else, or from Forochel to somewhere else, then you’d better befriend the people in that said somewhere else.  So e.g. to travel between Forochel and Bree-land requires befriending the Men of Bree; travel to and from Rivendell requires befriending the Elves of Rivendell, etc.

How well does this system work?  In practice, all the characters I took to Forochel (which is incidentally a lvl 42-50 zone) failed to significantly benefit from the fast travel options.  By the time they had enough reputation with the Lossoth to gain fast travel there, they didn’t need it; in the process of gaining that reputation they’d completed all the quests already, or all I cared to do.  Few of my characters had enough reputation with surrounding factions to benefit from the fast travel to and from Forochel, either, and it didn’t generally seem worth my time to grind rep for that purpose.  There is one exception here: completing all the quests at the first two quest hubs in Forochel yields Acquaintance standing, which in turn unlocks fast travel between Ost Forod in Evendim and the second quest hub in Forochel, which is smack in the middle of Forochel’s icy wastes.  That’s convenient if one continues to quest there.  By and large though the fast travel concept in Forochel didn’t work all that well for providing greater convenience to players – it took a lot of time and work to unlock the options and the fast travel rewards came too late.

By contrast, in Eregion, fast travel is unlocked by deeds, which are completed by finishing quests in the zone.  After completing the first 10 quests in Eregion, one unlocks fast travel to the first Eregion quest hub; one can then travel to Gwingris from any connecting stable, be that in Rivendell or one of the other Eregion hubs.  This option becomes available before one’s completed all the quests at the first hub, which means it remains useful in practical terms for the player.  Likewise, completing more quests in Eregion completes successive deeds, unlocking fast travel to the 3 other quest hubs there.  As one quests and spends time there, fast travel options open up organically over time, providing a natural progression that’s rewarding and useful.  By the time one’s completed most of the quests in Eregion, one can fast travel to all 4 quest hubs, or between those hubs and Rivendell.

This concept worked well, and is mirrored in Moria.  Moria is divided into the Central Halls, Upper Halls, and Lower Halls; completing quests in each of these areas unlocks fast travel to various quest hubs in these areas.  This requires a greater time investment than Eregion did, but then there are a lot more quests in Moria than in Eregion.  Moria’s fast travel options require a bit more deliberate effort on the part of the player than Eregion’s do, which I regard as a bit unfortunate; overall, Eregion’s fast travel design is the most enjoyable for me in game.

There’s another type of fast travel that doesn’t involve stables, which is available to certain classes.  Hunters can transport themselves and fellowship members to various places around the world, and Wardens can transport themselves only.  Both Captains and Guardians have abilities related to summoning fellowship members to each other’s locations, but that doesn’t really pertain to the type of travel being discussed here.  I’ll focus here on the Hunter since that’s the only class that can transport both the character and fellowship members from one place to another.

Hunters gain the ability to jump to various locations based on 4 different approaches: trainers, quests, reputation, and deeds.  Trainers will sell Hunters the ability to port to the more common places – that’s simple enough, and becomes available to all Hunters at various levels based on the locations in question.  Some locations, like Tinnudir in Evendim, require completion of a special local quest in order to unlock the Hunter’s port.  Both Forochel and Moria require a Hunter to gain a low amount of reputation with local factions (Acquaintance in both cases) before the Hunter is allowed to buy the skill to port there.  Eregion is however the only zone that has the Hunter port unlocked by completing a deed.  In this case, a Hunter must explore all the major ruins and major animal dens of the zone to complete two local deeds; completion of both deeds unlocks the ability to port to Eregion’s third quest hub, Echad Dunann, which lies at the western entrance of Moria.

Of the options listed above, the one I most enjoyed was Eregion’s.  It felt natural and fitting for a Hunter to simply explore the area and learn it well enough to be able to travel safely and quickly there.  This also encourages exploration, obviously, since one must travel all over the zone to complete the deeds.  One could, in theory, unlock the ability to fast travel to Suri-kyla in Forochel or to Moria’s 21st Hall without ever having been to those places (you can gain enough rep to be Acquaintance pretty easily in both zones, and a friend could buy the skill scrolls for the travel powers – you need only be Acquaintance to use the scroll and learn the skill, not to buy the scroll in the first place).  That’s frankly a little silly.

Sith Lords in Middle-earth

I’ve really been enjoying the Rune-keeper (RK) class, one of the two new classes added to LotRO in the Moria expansion.  The class is a bit like a Hunter and a bit like a Minstrel in gameplay; never both at the same time through really.  The class skills are divided into two main groups: massive damage or heals over time.  The more of one sort of skill one uses in a given fight, the more options become available – thus if e.g. I use my damage skills to kill something, as the fight progresses my more powerful damage spells get unlocked, but at the same time I lose access to my more powerful healing skills.  This process is known as attunement.  It’s a delicate balance and I think is handled very well.

The class has a nice daze skill, which takes a foe out of combat for 5-10 seconds (or 10-15 seconds if traited).  There’s also a short duration stun that works more often the stronger one’s battle attunement.  Otherwise, the options are overwhelming force or strong healing.  When soloing, that’s a pretty clear choice. 😉  It is possible to throw a couple of heal-over-time skills up before a fight, then go heavy into damage, and using this approach my RK has been able to consistently solo ‘red’ mobs (~5 levels higher) when need be.  Correspondingly, my RK, whom I only started playing a couple of weeks ago, hit lvl 45 the other night.

<rant>There’s been some concern in the community that the RK violates the lore of Middle-earth by providing spell effects that are too flashy; one can shoot lightning from one’s hands (“your feeble skills are no match for the dark side!”), rain down fire upon one’s foes, or summon a hailstorm.  To those who say this violates the lore, I respond, “go read the books again!”  This is a pet peeve of mine; there’s actually rather a lot of overt, flashy magic in Tolkien’s works yet people so often forget this.  In the Silmarillion, the tale of Beren and Luthien has some of the most extreme examples of flashy magic of which I’ve read… multiple characters use illusion magic to change their appearances into vampires and werewolves, use songs to literally tear towers down and scatter stones, and charm even Morgoth into a magical sleep.  In the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf calls down fire from the heavens on the wargs who attack the Fellowship in Eregion, leaving the whole hilltop scorched (the location is of course in game: the Burnt Tor).  Later when Minas Tirith is beseiged by the Nazgul, Gandalf fires a massive bolt of light into the sky, driving them off and dispelling the magical fear they brought.  Elrond caused a river to flood, washing away the Nazgul, and Gandalf made the rushing water form the shape of horses just because he felt like it.  Hells, four of the main characters (or technically five, though Bilbo and Frodo shared the same weapon) had weapons that glowed!  Even Bilbo’s grandfather, the Old Took, had magical cufflinks that remained attached until removed, and could never be lost.  Magic in Middle-earth is neither weak nor hidden nor especially rare.  </rant>

Keep your hands off my Sith Lord wannabe!  He belongs in Middle-earth dammit.  Now excuse me a moment while I blast these orcs into cinders.

To dungeons deep and caverns old

Well, I’m back.

I’d been growing dissatisfied with EQ2 for some time now – the world was huge and there was a ton to do and see, but it felt somehow empty to me, and I never really had any goals except the most basic of achievement-related ones (e.g. level up in adventure or crafting).  The EQ2 crafting, while unique and admittedly challenging, felt tedious to me, and none of my characters ever had AAs close to what I’d read they ought to have at their level.  All in all, it felt like a lot of work to field characters who weren’t gimped by poor equipment and paltry AAs.  So after some soul-searching, I resubscribed to the MMO I have the best memories of – Lord of the Rings Online.  Buying the expansion (and base game again) for $9.95 was a compelling bargain (digital download for the win!), as was paying $9.95 per month to subscribe.

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