[LOTRO] Wintershome

Amidst all the Cataclysm excitement (has it really just been a week?) I slipped back to LOTRO this week for a visit. And I’m just in time for the Winter Festival.

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Now this one took me by surprise because usually the LOTRO festivals follow a sort of pattern. There will be events and dancing in specific party locations in the starting zones – the party tree in the Shire is a particular favourite. Then probably some sort of a pub crawl for the inn league too and maybe some extra horse racing.

But they have been really working on their holiday events over the past year. (One might argue that given the slow pace of content otherwise, it’s probably just as well.)

At Halloween, there was a hobbit instance. And now, at Winter Festival (which they probably should have called Yule, just for consistency) an entire new mini zone. It’s called Frostbluff, and .. I’ve no idea where it is in Middle Earth, just that you can get a horse ride there from the usual suspects. We talk a lot about theme park MMOs vs sandbox MMOs, but this area does actually feel like a small enclosed theme park.

There is some lore behind it, the town was settled by people and the mayor made his life’s work establishing a famous winter festival. (ie. he build a theme park.) I won’t quibble any more about the themeparkness because there’s a ton to do here, and from what I have seen so far, it’s nicely put together. Not only that but right at the beginning you are confronted with a sense of injustice, of wronged workers who are being starved so that the mayor can get rich from the tourist trade.

I’m not sure if this was intended but it makes me wonder if I am supporting The Man just by trying any of the winter games. Or will the devs let me show the miserly mayor the error of his ways and bring some winter cheer to the poor workers and their families. I kind of hope the latter … but this is a F2P game now, so maybe they are trying to subtly press home the idea that imaginary people suffer when we buy shiny ponies from the cash shop.

But then again, can I really pass up the chance to see Mr Shakesburrow’s acting company, the Green Lily Orators, Bards, and Entertainers (G.L.O.B.E) for short? (The theatre, incidentally, is very cool. Player characters take roles in the play.)

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This screenie is taken from inside the G.L.O.B.E theatre. Those are PCs in the audience and also on the stage; the audience is also prompted to throw rotten fruit or flower petals at the stage from time to time also depending on how well the actors perform, measured by whether they use appropriate emotes when prompted.

I am probably more morally torn by the introduction to this zone than I have been for the entirety of Cataclysm. And therefore I do want to spend more time there, figuring out what’s going on. Either way, this is definitely one of the coolest, most intriguing, and most expansive holiday festivals I’ve ever seen. A whole mini zone complete with storylines, activities, minigames and (of course) rewards … Yet, at the same time, it’s a strange theme park that isn’t very Lord of the Rings-ish in feel, even though they’ve really tried hard.

Maybe it’s just a paradox of holiday events that they will always tend to break the 4th wall, being seasonally themed amusement rides for players to correspond with RL festivals.

Having said that, some of the holiday rewards this time around are very cool. You could get a little stage to put in your own garden, to put on miniplays, and you can pick up titles such as “Star of the Show” or “Extra.”

Thoughts on LOTRO FTP

So, I’ve finally started to pay attention to LotRO again seriously since the European game went free-to-play and we actually have some new content to muck about with. Not only new content in terms of land-mass and quests, but also newly-scaled instances, new barter items to grind and a little class revamp for those of the Captain persuasion (which is me, naturally).

New specs – no problem. I can see the benefits of having some more viable speclines available to me, even if I still don’t like many of the individual traits it’s been interesting to toy around with them.

New quests – Enedwaith is pretty. I like the varied land, the quest hubs, the flow of the story. The epic book wasn’t too bad, shame it didn’t have any group content in – even if it had been done skirmish-style, like the Mirkwood book. I miss some grouping in epic books – often it helps make them feel more… epic. I am, however, taking the questing quite slowly and progressing at a much slower pace than I’m used to. I’m kind of enjoying that, despite feeling slow compared to my more ‘hardcore’ buddies. There’s a LOT of repeatable quests for barter items and reputation also. If you’ve not done the quests the first time, you don’t get to do the repeatables (fairly obvious), but I should, eventually, get some more of those done. I probably do a few more than many, but nothing like the hardcore playstyle I used to favour. Sometimes I feel bad about this, like I’ve fallen off some wagon. Other times, I remember I’m just doing other things instead.

Newly-scaling instances. Fun, distracting, a bit like skirmishes when they first came in, but with better reward structures. Have so far done Ost Elendil, two of the Barrows instances, and a couple of runs in Helegrod. I’d possibly have done more, but I’ve had a busy couple of weeks.

So I was reading about the November update, where Loremasters do very nicely (one day, Captains will receive some proper love from devs, honest!), and where class consumables get introduced (the summary linked to from mmorsel is the best out there). First thought – seriously, NOTHING for tailors again? Second thought – we can craft them or buy them from the store? Third thought – some of these look pretty essential for raiding performance, others not so much. Now, right now the better versions of all the consumables are crafted. That’s good. But the next tier down can be bought…

…so far, I think Turbine’s implementation of free-to-play has shown a great deal of thought. We can buy stuff and I’m sure they’re making a lot more money than they were, but nothing yet that I feel I have to buy. Although I was told this week by a fellow raider than anyone not buying stat tomes is an idiot. Colour me idiotic then, because I managed to raid with my ‘rubbish’ stats last week and truthfully since f2p came in and people bought stat tomes, we’ve done worse generally! I probably will spend my points on stat tomes eventually, and I do resent them more than anything in the store – but hey, there has to be some blatant money-making in there. Class consumables makes me want to watch the store more closely and I wonder how long before Turbine pushes the limits. Will we ever be expected to spend actual money to keep up enough to raid? Will that be a neat excuse for me to drop raiding? I only have a rubbish craft (ie. tailoring), and I find it difficult to get people to craft stuff for me. I make money and I end up spending it on tokens, scrolls, potions and I guess I’ll do the same for consumables in the future. But if I didn’t raid, I wouldn’t have to do any of that!

Tempting!

Dickishness? Or Fun?

Spinks’ post reminded me of something. Last week, during our Barad Guldur raid in LotRO I started laughing because of a conversation I was having with the other Captain in the raid. And when I decided to share my ‘evil’ thoughts with the rest of the raid, it exposed what might be called ‘dickish’ behaviour on my part. There’s a firey mob in the raid that, when it dies, does an AE burst of damage that can take people down fast. So, when it gets to 10k we all tend to run away and leave a sole tank in the vicinity.

Captains have a skill (Oathbreakers) that ups the damage on a mob by 35% for 15s that we can use every 5m.

Between Boss 1 and Boss(es) 2 (twins) in the raid there’s a fair amount of drudge-y trash mobs, so sometimes I chat tactics with whoever the other captain is (or general chitchat with anyone). Last week I simply commented that one of the things I sometimes do for fun is drop Oathbreakers on one of the firey mobs when it’s down to a third health and see if the raid notices the damage output is so much higher they need to run sooner. Most of the time they do. It’s never caused a wipe, I hasten to add… but I even felt bad while laughing about it.

I’m not a bad person, I just get bored and like my class skills to be noticed :-)

Cultural Differences: Sometimes we don’t all want to be treated the same

If you are a regular reader, you will be used to hearing me complain that EU players are often pressured to play on EU servers and treated differently from US players. It might mean less access to developers (as in WoW), being delayed on patches, having our issues ignored by devs, or even being run by a completely different organisation.

But this week, I was reminded that sometimes having separate regional organisations can be a good thing.

Last week, I had an email from Codemasters with details of a sale on the LOTRO EU shop. Nothing special there, we expect them to do regular sales, it’s part of the F2P strategy. But this one was a special Bonfire Night Sale, and I was amused that two of the items on sale were the potion that gives fire resistance and the firebreath emote (I assume this makes your character breathe fire). Bonfire Night is a very British custom, and yes, I was amused by the appropriately themed sale. Anyone else would have been puzzled, I think.

And this week, LOTRO US has a veterans day promotion. If they tried that here, there would be some resistance because we don’t have sales on remembrance day.  We wear (the inevitable and unavoidable) poppies, and have 2 minutes silence at 11am. Anything commercial to do with that is something that we’d probably find quite disrespectful. Or at least, really really weird.

I’m going to be curious to keep track of the two item shops now for comparison, but hats’ off to Turbine and Codies for making a virtue out of a necessity.

[LOTRO] A walk in Enedwaith, with farmyard animals

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So the long awaited F2P update arrived in LOTRO EU last week, and with it the new high level zone and epic book story associated with Enedwaith (a new zone to the south of Eregion).

Welcome to anyone who is trying the game for the first time. Have fun, it’s a beautifully wrought world.

This is the first new content that EU players have had in the game for over a year, so even aside from the new F2P crew, it’s not surprising that the servers have been buzzing.

One player on my kinship forum was quite dismissive of the whole affair. He said he had been playing the Cataclysm beta and doubted that Turbine would come anywhere near to Blizzard’s storytelling ability. But having played through some of the new book, I wonder if he’d actually tried it at all before coming to that conclusion.

The storyline is this: The Grey Company – all the remaining rangers of the north – are riding south to meet up with Aragorn, their leader, in Rohan. As brave adventurers who have worked with the rangers in the past, you have been invited to join their ride. And Arwen has also entrusted you with a special gift for her beloved. (Because let’s face it, by this time you are beloved with every single free people faction in Middle Earth … pretty much.)It’s a dangerous journey through the wilds. Go!

What I love about Turbine’s storytelling is that they do a much better job than Blizzard in giving you a nice variety of things to do, gameplay wise. I think the recent cultist plots and elemental invasions in WoW prove this quite nicely – they’re fun in themselves but very reminiscent of other quests or events.

Whereas in this new book, in short order I was playing through some scenes in Aragorn’s history through the eyes of several different rangers, exploring a mazelike dungeon — with extra achievement for finding lots of extra out of the way spots that weren’t required for the main plot (a fun little sop for the explorers, I thought), sneaking around another cave to snatch a key from a sleeping jailor without waking him up, and fighting off waves of wolves to keep an NPC alive.

They’ve done a particularly nice job on the solo quest instances – always a strength of the game – with good use of outdoors locations as well as indoors ones.

I do find LOTRO to be a much slower paced game than WoW, which is something to bear in mind when you are playing. If you are not in a hurry, it’s extremely chilled out.

And then there are the farmyard animals

I present to you, the wildlife of Enedwaith.

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Yes, I am fighting an evil goat at night in that last picture.

It’s just a sausage fest

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Apparently it’s British Sausage week this week (didn’t actually realise it was sponsored by pork marketers until I researched this post, guess I’m being subversive by eating beef sausages then!).

So it seemed somehow appropriate that when I logged into LOTRO last night after the F2P update had gone live, one of the many new deeds I was showered with was, “Known to the men of Bree.”

“That’s a bit cheeky”, I thought. But at least the actual title is – slightly – better…

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Anyone else have any favourite embarrassing achievements, deeds, or titles?

Bad News, Good News, Cute Cat

Not too unhappy!

Last week I discovered my Dragon Age save files  have become somewhat corrupted, so I now can’t be bothered to finish my second playthrough, and I was relatively near the end (at the Arl Howe stuff).

I’m bummed, I preferred my second character, and got so far with it, but now I’ve shelved the game until Dragon Age 2 is out. I hope for less issues and I will be starting a new character anyway. Means I didn’t get to play quite a bit of the DLC (which I found not really to be worth the money) nor the expansion. I’ll live. One day I’ll go back to it. Perhaps.

It put me off gaming last week, since I sat down all ready to lose a day to finishing the game. Bad News.

On sunday, I dragged myself to the LotRO kin raid to Barad Guldur where we actually made progress in our fight against the Lieutenant of Dol Guldur. It’s been a while since I honestly thought we’d made any good progress, and more importantly I didn’t wipe the group once, so I have a little more faith in my ability to pay attention, even when I hate a fight. So that was my Good Luck in gaming. I know it sounds self-deprecating, but the fight is so annoying on a micro-management level, and includes (for me), healing, running around to try and hit a fell beast but moving out of range of its tail and mouth, watching for fear on others, watching for yellow and/or purple eyes on me and reacting accordingly – and all later in the evening than I would like, concentration-wise. So while I’m glad the group, as a whole, made progress, I’m more happy that I managed to hold my attention the entire however-many-attempts we had. I think, now, that we will be able to down him. But I still have no love lost to Barad Guldur and will be glad when we can go to Helegrod again!

(and in secondary good news, I get to play Deathspank for the PC roday after pre-ordering my first ever game on Steam!)