[DAW] Developers Appreciation Week: Jane Jensen

Scary has been hosting/ encouraging a week of appreciation for the developers, storytellers, artists and coders who create the games and gameworlds into which we players sink so much of our free time.

My game of choice right now is SWTOR, and I give huge props to Bioware for having made a game that I still thoroughly enjoy playing well after the usual 3-month mark. But I’m winging my developer appreciation this week in a different direction.

Gabriel_Knight_2_29_57_Chapter_4_Neuschwanstein

Ah for the heady days of old school adventure games, where the best of the bunch featured solid research, cool characters, and totally hatstand puzzles. Syp, in timely fashion, has been indulging in some nostalgia and describing his experiences playing Gabriel Knight for the first time. The screenshot here is from Gabriel Knight 2, in which our hero goes to Munich, hangs out with werewolves, and searches for mysteries hidden in Wagner’s operas and Schloss Neuschwanstein. I also seem to remember a scene where one of the sinister yet strangely compelling male alpha  werewolves comes on to your (male) main character, or maybe I imagined that part.

Yeah, imagine that in today’s gaming world. A story that hinges on classic opera. And some batshit puzzles – although not quite as crazed as those featuring in Gabriel Knight 3 which Old Man Murray argues convincingly helped to kill the adventure gaming genre. I have fond memories of playing GK2 with my boyfriend, who had just come back from working in Munich, and was impressed at the attention to detail in aspects like the map of the metro system.

The author behind these classics is Jane Jensen, who has continued to work in the field as well as publishing some GK novels. She’s the developer I’m picking to admire this week because she succeeded in telling the sorts of exciting dark fantasy stories in her games that have made it into gaming history, made a name for herself as a female developer in a field which was still mostly male dominated, and is one of the few old school game designers who was particularly known as a  writer who could be easily named by fans.

She also has a kickstarter up at the moment to produce more story based adventure games, so if you like what you see then go support them.

[The Secret World] The Secret Roleplayer

Funcom’s ‘The Secret World’.

You’ve heard of it, you’ve looked into some of the concepts or gone through their initiation test to see which of their three factions you naturally fall in to. If you’re like me, you’ve shrugged that answer off and picked which faction you like the sound of based purely on their name, or external factors!

It’s a classless secret society MMO, set in a semi-real world environment (of course taking London and New York and the rest of the world and giving us the urban fantasy versions of the cities, where monsters and magic exist). If you’ve jumped aboard the hype train, you’ve also seen the Facebook videos, the ARG sites, and stepped firmly into the ‘Secret’ World.

I’m intrigued by the concept as an MMO. Not necessarily just because it’s something different, but because it harks back to the books I enjoy reading, the RPGs I played with pen and paper back in the day, and even to some extent to the card games I learned years ago and still play with friends when I get the chance (yes, Illuminati, I’m looking at you!!). But over the past few weeks I’ve realised that there’s another big hole for me in MMOs, and which I think The Secret World has the best chance of plugging amongst all the games that are coming up for release. It may actually offer a really good platform for roleplay in MMOs.

I’ve had this discussion and debate since the days of Dark Age of Camelot, and in order to make my point, I should perhaps list the MMOs I’ve played (it makes a difference, trust me). They are: Dark Age of Camelot, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer Online. Any others I’ve dipped into very briefly, such as Everquest 2, Age of Conan and Vanguard with maybe a month of each and not really in with a group or guild – or even seeking out other players, just keeping my head down and seeing what the game was like for a relatively short period.

In games I have played I always join the roleplay server. I try to roleplay, I will ALWAYS respond in roleplay fashion if spoken to first in one. But Dark Age of Camelot was the one most people around me /tried/ to roleplay in. We had some great events, we tried, we really did, but it never came close to text-based roleplay found in MUSHes and MUXes back in the day.

MMO roleplay is restricted by it’s very nature. It’s very inflexible. There’s no human GM tailoring the setting and story to the players. You can’t really choose any look or any background that works, instead you have to fit into a more fixed settingr, the emotes are often rubbish, and it’s hard to really settle into a character, for me, anyway. There are also lots of players who think exchanging ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ for ‘you’ is actual roleplay. Or ‘I have reached my 30th season of experience’ (ding 30!). No further comment.

You can’t really take the role of a baddie, your story progression is there for you, and it’s a hard reach to really think ‘what is my motivation for killing these 10 rats instead of telling this lazy guard with a massive sword to do it himself’. But we forgive those in the name of story and people genuinely DO roleplay on all MMOs… I just don’t have the tolerance for it as things stand right now.

But when it comes to The Secret World, my interest in roleplay is piqued. It reminds me of my World of Darkness MUSH days, and actually  creating a character that I could write a detailed background for and who could be internally conflicted and act appropriately. Maybe it’s because I did more World of Darkness and In Nomine roleplay than I did the more fantasy settings as I was growing up, and the urban fantasy really does grab me far more than Middle-Earth as a world I want to really roleplay in (with apologies to all the lovely fantasy settings, but they just don’t do it for me, roleplay-wise). Like nostalgia for board games, I’m now feeling it for roleplay games and ready to embrace it in a setting I like.

So, I find myself looking at the trailers and information differently. Instead of really caring about the smack-talk about what factions people will play and how much we’ll all hate one another and seek each other out, I am starting to create the background of the character I will play and that I will flesh out and breath life into regardless of everything else. It’s not a case of wanting to even know where and what my friends will play, I believe I’ll be able to have contact with them even if it’s cross-faction and we can form uneasy truces if we want to play together… but with a level-less, classless system, and the ability to play around more with character style and fashion (even if still limited to certain faces and body types), it’ll be an interesting journey, whether it succeeds wildly or falls to its face. And that’s the kind of anticipation I can live with.

Thoughts? Have you played pen and paper RPGs, and if so, how do you think roleplay has worked in current games? Do you avoid like the plague or actively seek it out a lot more than I do? Or if you are an MMO RPer, do you think the pen and paper grognards have totally unrealistic expectations?

And what do you think The Secret World might add or ruin for the genre?

A Kingslayer is you! And some thoughts on raiding.

deathofarthas

Yup, this is what a 25 man LK kill looks like (kids, don’t take screenshots before the mob is actually dead — what I did here is wrong).

It is harder to describe what it feels like. We were screaming on voice chat. Screaming the way we hadn’t been all expansion. Because this isn’t just an unusually awkward raid boss at the end of the patch du jour, for my raid group it represents the end of a long journey which we’ve taken together. And there have been up times, and there have been down times. People have left and people have joined. I’m sure there have been times when the raid leaders wanted to throw in the towel from sheer frustration.

Although we all talked confidently about killing the Lich King someday, at the start of Wrath we were scarred from our experiences in the previous expansion. In TBC our alliance was very newbie friendly, we took on lots of new raiders and taught them to clear Karazhan and Gruul. We never made heavy inroads into Serpentshrine Cavern, people tended to leave to join more hardcore raid guilds if they were keen. It’s what I did also, when I wanted to see Zul Aman and the Black Temple.

So it seems fitting to put that in context. I’d seen more hardcore guilds and decided that wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t know how the tanking would work out, or if we would see Arthas die. But like all the other members of our raid, I wanted to try and make it work.

Wrath has been our expansion. The one where the raid game was aimed primarily at raids like mine. No matter how much more hardcore players try to seize control of the narrative and tell us that only the hard modes really count, I think that’s a decision that each player has to make for themselves. Gevlon has a great post up today where he’s looking at  how players decide to define what it means to win.

[Sirlin says] “A scrub is a player who is handicapped by self-imposed rules that the game knows nothing about.”. Very accurate and very true. But why would anyone do that and how to fix them? “the scrub labels a wide variety of tactics and situations cheap.

In this context, I think self imposed rules such as  ‘I want to raid with my mates’, ‘I want to only raid one/two nights a week’, and/or ‘I want to be part of an established community’ definitely fall in this category. But it’s not cheap, nor does it make a player a scrub. One of the beauties of MMOs is that there is plenty of space for lots of different self imposed rulesets. All you need is a group or leaders that agree with the ones you have picked. And no harm is done to anyone who plays differently, they can just go play with a different group.

So yes, there was a 30% damage/healing/stamina buff in ICC yesterday and although the LK is mostly an execution fight, it definitely helped. But for what it’s worth, last night’s kill feels GREAT.

We played by our self imposed rule and got our self defined victory. So that’s a win. Hard modes await, and we’re not expecting to get the LK hard mode kill. Most of us probably aren’t even interested in that. It’s more about completing Shadowmourne for our raid’s chosen wielder and chilling out with friends until the next expansion.

We were actually the 5th horde side raid to get him. This says more about how few 25 man guilds actually made it to this point in the expansion than it does about our raid alliance, but maybe keeping a casual light-schedule raid together and focussed for this long is an achievement in itself. I know the players who joined us after their more hardcore raids split up said they got a buzz from the kill too.

I wish there were achievements for raid leaders. Because ours deserve them every bit as much as any hardcore raid leader ever did, if not more. For now, the screams of excitement over TS may have to be enough.

We’ve come a long way, baby

longway

If you look back through this blog, you’ll see one of the first entries was me explaining how nervous I felt about being tapped to main tank in Naxxramas at the start of Wrath.

And even before that, like many other players I first encountered Tirion Fording (key NPC in this storyline) back in the Plaguelands, all those years ago. He’s actually one of the big WoW NPCs who was entirely introduced in the MMO and not previously.

Yup, we’ve come a long way baby.

kingslayer

ps. this is the shot from after he actually died, with the achievements at the bottom of the screen and everything to prove it.

pps. naturally he didn’t drop a tanking weapon.

Let’s Play Dwarf Fortress

dwarffort

Are you ready for a grand adventure in architecture, engineering, dwarven culture, and 101 exciting ways to kill off a dwarven civilisation?

Dwarf Fortress is a free, notoriously complex simulation game in which a handful of dwarves set off from the Mountainhome to construct a new dwarven paradise. The dwarves themselves are somewhat autonomous – they have names and personalities, can enter into romances with each other, and you can give each one instructions; but don’t be surprised if they interpret them in unexpected ways. Imagine a cross between The Sims, a roguelike, and Sim City, but rather more complex than any of them. What could possibly go wrong?

Here’s an inspirational(?) story about one of the most infamous dwarven fortresses of all time – Boatmurdered. This particular game was played as a succession game, with different players taking charge of the fortress for each year of game time.

Because it is such a fully featured simulation, DF also seems to generate the best stories of any game I know. Every game is different, and some of them are a bit mad.This is another reason I’m determined to try to make some headway with it.

A new version of the game was released this year. And although it is likely to still be a bit buggy, this is the version I plan to use.

Strike the Earth!

World is made of cheese, for you to carve.

It is clear from very early on that I’m going to need a good tutorial to hold my hand with this one. If you are interested in playing along, here’s one I found for DF2010. It’s by capnduck and comes with a half-built dwarf fortress to practice on, and a bunch of awesome youtube tutorial videos.

Captain Duck’s video tutorial play along page

My goal for this week is to get this thing set up, and play alongside the first tutorial which mostly involves loading the pre-packaged fortress and exploring the part built section.

I notice immediately that this game involves some control keys which don’t seem to be listed on the help page. So to assist with figuring this dratted thing out, I enlisted another (text based) tutorial by Abalieno which is for the old version of the game, but they seem to have kept the same key binds. There is also a very fully featured DF wiki.

Useful control things I have learned so far:

  • To go down a level, use SHIFT + >
  • To go up a level, use SHIFT + <
  • To return to origin, use F1
  • when the game asks for + or –, it often means to use the ones on the numpad
  • it’s also space bar to pause or unpause the game. Depending on which menu you have up, the screen will not always tell you whether the game is paused.

Good luck!

9 Ways to Justify Changes in the Lore

I love the lore behind imaginary places, people, objects, games, worlds, and stories! And I’m not alone. Far from it, drawing people into these imaginary places is what drives the huge popularity of the great IPs of our time. Middle Earth, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Twilight, James Bond, Superman, Sherlock Holmes, Sandman, Harry Potter, Warhammer. And so on.

They were stories first of course, or games, or comics, but to fans it’s all about the lore. About the imaginary history and the internal consistence, and even bout the places and events that are only ever visited ‘off camera’.

Now, MMOs, comics, and TV series have a unique challenge with respect to their lore, because it will change and grow over time. Sometimes in a long running series, it’s difficult for creators to keep track of every single aspect of the IPs history – and fans love to catch them out on it. This is especially true when it becomes more and more obvious that when the series began, the creators hadn’t yet decided how it would end.

And both TV series and games have reasons for wanting to insert new elements or directions into their lore. For a TV series, maybe the series needs to come to a neat ending (Battlestar Galactica), or a new show runner wants to take a different direction (Doctor Who), or one of the script writers just had a really cool idea that everyone likes. In games, developers also want to be responsive to what players want, and shifts in game design. Or maybe they just want to drop in a new race of space aliens because they look cool. Or in other words, there are good reasons for wanting to twist the lore into pretzels; to improve gameplay, or to improve a dramatic arc, for example.

As fans, we’d like to think this never happened, or at least that we would never notice. And in great novels, the chances are that the author will be able to go back and adjust the lore to fit the story if s/he needs to do it before publication. But in ongoing TV series, comics, or games, that isn’t an option.

It’s a familiar dilemma to pen and paper GMs also. You think of a great idea for next week’s scenario. But how can you make it fit into the game world?

Here are a few suggestions for game designers. Next time you need to do something crazy in game for gameplay reasons, try one of these excuses to sell it to the players.

1. A Wizard Did It

A time honored D&D favourite justification. This can explain just about anything you ever want to do in a fantasy setting. And as a bonus, can cover up any failure on the part of the GM to remember some minute background detail that was mentioned in passing three years ago. Players will ALWAYS remember this sort of thing.

For example: ”Why is there a black monolith in the middle of this desert? There’s no black rock around here.” “A wizard did it.”

If you get bored of wizards or are working in a different genre try these alternatives:

  • an ancient god/ civilisation did it
  • ultra high tech did it
  • black ops/ secret government labs did it
  • you have no idea what did it  (Oo, a mystery! As a bonus, if you are lazy you can listen to players discuss their ideas and then use the one that sounds coolest.)

2. A MAD Wizard Did it

Like #1, but when the thing in question is obviously pointless, contradicts current lore, or even acts against the creator’s best interests. You can even combine 1 with 2 if players ask particularly awkward questions:

Why is Bob riding a sparkly pony!

A wizard did it.

But all wizards are afraid of stars, you told us that last week.

Uh … a MAD wizard did it.

Sometimes you can even explain that the wizard in #1 later went mad and was responsible for #2.

3. Gotterdammerung

Everything goes up in flames for no reason. But it’s ok because it’s SYMBOLIC. Bonus points if you can work in a thematic colour scheme, weather effects, and NPC names.

“Do you think Mr Justifiablehomicide wants to be our friend?”

4. Crisis on Infinite Azeroths

It’s … a crossover!

5. The Hudson Hawk Defence

Also known as ‘the totally bullshit explanation’. Just state your highly implausible explanation with a straight face and see if anyone buys it.

You’re supposed to be all cracked up at the bottom of the hill.

Air bags!Can you fucking believe it?

You’re supposed to be blown upinto fiery chunks of flesh.

Sprinkler system set up in the back.
Can you fucking believe it?

Yeah! ……. That’s probably what happened.
— Hudson Hawk

6. I woke up, and it was all a dream

Made famous by Dallas, this explanation allows you to reset the lore to any time in the past that you wish.

7. Take the blue pill, Neo

Haha, bait and switch. Everything the players thought they knew turns out to be wrong.  In The Matrix, this was because the entire world known by the protagonist was just a VR simulation.

But a similar explanation can be used to justify why the players’ allies are actually their enemies or any of their assumptions (which were encouraged strongly by the game, story, or TV series) were completely incorrect.

Players will typically accept this once, but will then choose the blue pill and try to stick with the original assumptions because those are why they liked the game in the first place anyway.

8. Break the fourth wall

I’ve got to stay here, but there’s no reason why you folks shouldn’t go out into the lobby until this thing blows over.

- Groucho, Horse Feathers

We don’t see this often in MMOs but occasionally an in-game narrator or tutorial will explain game mechanics to the player. A similar scheme can be used to try to explain lore changes that were made for gameplay reasons.

9. Blame Christopher Tolkein

Blame any changes on the vagaries of the IP’s current owner.

Christopher Tolkein and the Tolkein Estate can take the flak for Middle Earth based games, Games Workshop can shoulder the blame for changes in Warhammer, and so on.

The problem of really dreadful roleplayers

There has been a lot of drama in the WoW blogosphere this week, what with invented drama (it’ll bite you on the butt one day, kids) as well as thin skinned bloggers throwing up a drama storm and rage quitting when someone disagrees with them strongly.

Yes, I’m calling it thin skinned blogging to throw a wobbly when you stir up a storm in a teacup. And if your post genuinely upsets another writer, of course they will respond. Think of it as an opportunity to either engage in vigorous debate (i.e. write some more and explain why you’re right!) or else learn from someone else (i.e. think about it, and then post a thoughtful post explaining why you changed your mind).

Anyhow, since Cranky Healer has left the field, I want to talk about the problem of really bad roleplaying and how we can deal with it. Really bad roleplaying can mean a lot of different things:

  • playing a character that’s horribly inappropriate (eg. I am the vampire stepson of Thrall and Alezxstrasza)
  • horrible writing skills
  • playing a very inappropriate scene (eg. cybering in goldshire, especially if it is explicit), or playing a scene in an inappropriate place
  • doing anything else that shows you have failed to understand the game’s lore, theme, and background at a really basic level.

Anna’s response post contains CH’s original suggestion – mock the weak. This is similar to mocking idiots on trade channel. Except that trade channel shenanigans will amuse the rest of the server, mocking roleplayers only entertains the people who happen to be around, the majority of whom are probably the people you are mocking who will not be amused.

Here’s a secret also. The majority of players on a RP realm will not cry if really bad roleplayers get mocked. It’s common practice on the realm forums, which the perpetrators are unlikely to read. On the other hand, a lot of roleplayers will also freely admit that their first ventures into RP were fairly awful too. And if they’d been mocked as soon as they got started, they might not have stuck with it.

Anna suggests instead that you could report the offenders. And if the offence did involve sexual language in public, the GMs may well take action. Or they might not. They’re not even overly proactive in even enforcing name changes, which is far easier to prove and to report.

Ultimately, the accepted way to deal with terrible roleplayers is to ignore them and let them get on with it. Our roleplaying servers don’t have active GMs who make sure everyone sticks to the theme. And if you aren’t a GM, it isn’t your job either. All we regular players can do is not include people in our own RP if their view on the gameworld and lore is radically different to ours. Or in other words, we show our disdain by not accepting their roleplay as valid in our RP.

If a really bad roleplayer is in your strict RP guild, then an officer will deal with it. And they’ll do this by explaining patiently to the offender what the problem was, and suggesting other ways to handle it. If you aren’t in a strict RP guild or don’t roleplay at all, then it is really not your problem, any more than you’d expect a random person to start yelling at you about your horrible talent spec while you were off quietly soloing somewhere.

The cost of WoW not being a RP-friendly game is that we have no way to enforce theme on people. But it’s a  big world and there are lots of players. If you want to roleplay, then find some like minded friends and set up some roleplay.

But Anna is right. Griefing is griefing. And how any sensible minded player could think that it was reasonable to encourage her guild to go mock people for their own amusement when she knew fine well that her guild was on a roleplay server? Yah. Don’t mess with our RP servers. They may have some truly shitty roleplayers on them, but they are OUR players and they’re part of OUR community. So if you really joined a RP server just so that you could mock the roleplayers, please leave now, because we don’t want you.

Just ignore them and bitch on realm or guild forums, like everyone else does :)

[LOTRO] When I’m 65 (and eyeing up the endgame)

outsidedolguldur

Fortress of Dol Guldur
I have been playing LOTRO in a very casual way, on and off, for the past few months. I have the great advantage of being able to call on Arbitrary for help when I get lost, need some in game advice, or want help with some quest or other, but otherwise I’ve been playing mostly solo.

I played the game for a few months when it came out, which was long enough to reach max level at the time and then get very ticked off at the (then) endgame zones of Angmar and the associated raids and instances. I picked up the Moria expansion a few months after it came out (and was discounted) and spent another month or two delving into Moria and trying out the new legendary weapons. Again, I enjoyed my time with the game, but drifted away when my attention was caught by something else.

And then the new skirmishes that came in with Mirkwood caught my eye, and I knew that I wanted to buy in again for a casual trip to Middle Earth. And so, for the first time in about 2 years, my burglar has actually hit max level again.

You can see from this that the way for a game to encourage me to resubscribe is to bring in some new and shiny functionality in a way that is easy to try as soon as I log in on my old character. New zones alone won’t do it, because I might not be the right level. So even Moria might not have grabbed me if my character at the time hadn’t been high enough level to go play there.

So … how’s Mirkwood?

dgpics I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with the elves in Lothlorien and Mirkwood. Moria’s epic but thoroughly confusing 3D architecture gives way to the more pastoral wooded vistas of the glowing golden wood and the murkier .. err.. murky one.

Mirkwood also benefits from being smaller in scope than both Shadows of Angmar and Moria – it has an easily comprehensible overarching plotline and stays mostly focussed on that. You are assisting the elves of Lothlorien in their push into Mirkwood and assault on the necromancer’s fortress of Dol Guldur. It will surprise no one (who is familiar with the source material) that this later turns out to be a feint intended to draw the Dark Lord’s gaze and armies away from a small NPC fellowship that is making its way towards Mordor.

So in many ways, Mirkwood is like Icecrown. You are part of an advancing army. You don’t know whether you will be able to overcome your foe. There is a grand fortification at the end of your journey. As you get closer to Dol Guldur, the quest hubs are fortified army camps and the quests will encourage you to capture more of the zone in piecemeal fashion.

The epic book questline that runs alongside the expansion is also a winner. Again the LOTRO team keep the questline focussed and interwoven with both the lore and the expansion storyline. You are working with a small team of elves on a very important prisoner exchange. In the course of the questline you get to know the individual elves quite well, and you will also get to strongly dislike the prisoner who you have to escort to the exchange point. I’m not used to feeling this kind of connection to NPCs in MMOs, so it’s a tribute to the LOTRO writing team that they can evoke this kind of emotional reaction.

The individual quests of the epic book are also astoundingly well executed. There’s a good mix of exploration, solo scripted questlines, killing, gathering, and the team also take the opportunity to showcase the highlight of Mirkwood, the skirmishes. Some of the epic book quests are implemented as skirmishes, so not only do you have the option to bring some friends along if you have any (or you can do them solo, since they scale), but you can also replay them afterwards.

Aside from giving the player a variety of activities, the quests are also very immersive. That means that if your character is lost and frustrated, the quest will make sure that you are too. If your character is nervously scouting ahead through a spider filled tunnel, expect to be nervously scouting through a spider filled tunnel (they will drop on your head unexpectedly, oh yes.)

One of the highlights for me was a quest where you are hunting for a lost dwarf in the swamps. You are warned to be careful of the boglights, but the quest is also set up so that the boglights will fake being images of the dwarf. You run up to them, the image disappears and reappears mockingly just around the next corner. The quest map and quest pointers play into the illusion and will direct you wrongly to the next illusion. It is only when you abandon those things and start searching on your own that you have any chance to actually find the missing dwarf.

You can decide for yourself if that sounds awesomely immersive or just annoying. (It’s actually both, but I can appreciate what they were doing with the storytelling.)

One of the other shining points of the storytelling is that after the main storyline is concluded, you can access several epilogues. That means as you travel back through the zone and hubs, some of the NPCs you had interacted with will have new epilogue quests for you. These give some closure and let you catch up with how events affected some of the individuals, whether it be taking news to faction leaders, helping some dwarves to honor their ancestors, or helping to bury dangerous artifacts deep in the tunnels of Moria where they can never be used again.

I would have loved this in Icecrown, where so many characters are left with dangling storylines. The epilogues make sure that no one’s story is skipped.

Another highlight of Mirkwood is the referrals back to LOTRO and The Hobbit.

combolotroquestI’m hoping this is going to be legible, but it shows how Mirkwood quests involve you making sure that Gollum isn’t caught by minions of The Enemy, and making use of the secret entrance by which Gandalf once sneaked into the necromancer’s lair to talk to Thorin’s father (which happened just before the beginning of The Hobbit.)

Pacing and Gearing and Reputations and Assumptions

I am always nervous about logging into an old game when I know my character is not well geared. What level of gear or preparation are they assuming for the new expansion? Will it be frustrating to play if you are a year (or more) out of practice and away from the cutting edge?

Turbine did a fantastic job with Mirkwood, at least for players like me. You can tell this because the only times I was frustrated with a quest, it turned out to be because I was doing it wrong. I was easily able to pick up new gear as I levelled by handing in reputation tokens or completing quests. Legendary weapons are also very accessible either via the auction house or reputation items – the key is that they mostly will not have optimal legacy abilities, but I found it easy to pick ones that were good enough for me.

The reputation in particular is very well done. You pick up reputation for the local elf faction for pretty much everything you do, and the reputation vendors are scattered through the zone in such a way that the vendors for your particular level of rep will turn up just as you achieved that rep level. That probably sounds confusing but in practice it’s very easy and natural to access reputation vendors and buy upgrades for your gear as you work through the questlines and quest hubs.

I capped out my reputation just about as I completed the book questline, which is a good example of how well the pacing is worked out. (I had done most of the normal quests too and a few of the dailies along the way, but never really pushed hard for reputation.)

Endgame or not Endgame

lonelands Lonelands, believe it or not!

Another place the LOTRO team score high is in introducing the player to the end game smoothly. As you run through the last of the book quests, you get stronger pointers towards the instances and raids. You even get a few tokens slung your way – not enough to really buy anything but enough to direct you to the token vendors to see what else you might be able to get in future.

The daily quests are introduced in the last few quest hubs, and worked into the overall theme of the zone (they involve patrols, killing orcs, and so on.)

But eventually you will have to make the choice: do you want to engage in endgame or not? Do you want to run the instances? Do you want to run the raids? Do you want to run the dailies? Or are you going to focus quietly on other things until the next expansion. It’s a decision all MMO players have to make at some point.

And the prospect of trying to learn new instances when everyone else is running them on hard mode and advertising for experienced players in chat channels is not really enticing to me. I don’t want to see them that badly. Plus  I have very little experience of grouping, and although I’m fairly clear on what my class is supposed to do, it’s quite likely that I’ve missed some key points. I think I could figure it out but I’m not sure if I really want to or not.

But I am not quite done with Mirkwood yet. Book 3 is coming out soon and with it duoing in skirmishes, which sounds intriguing to me since I do have a friend who plays. And also a new epic book quest, also intriguing to me given how much I enjoyed the current one. And meanwhile I can try to figure out how to make some gold in this game, catch up with all the Moria quests I skipped on my first run through, and maybe even buy a house to play with.

It’s amazing how free you feel once you decide that you don’t want to get tied into the endgame grind.