[LOTRO] Moria updated, the five minute quest/s

lotro_drunkmoria

I may be drunk in this screenshot, but I can see where my next tankard of beer is!

Arb and I were excited to get to Moria with our current LOTRO alts. We had heard a lot about how what is possibly one of the greatest expansions in MMO history had been updated and since we had both adventured through the area before, we figured that we would notice what had changed.

And for our first few levels we puzzled over whether  we had noticed any changes at all! Oh, it was fun to revisit old quests and areas we hadn’t seen for literally years – The Bat Cave! The Library! The Chamber of the Crossroads! But it wasn’t clear that any of them really seemed changed per se. I think many of the quests have been streamlined, there are fewer mobstacles in the main highways, and it also helped a lot that both Arb and I used some of our store credit to buy goats (ie. mounts which you can use in Moria as well as above ground). We also found some new extra horse (goat?) routes in Moria, taking you swiftly to minor questgivers from the major settlements. If I hadn’t mentioned this before by the way, Moria is big. Really big. Also very three dimensional, those dwarves loved their stairs and bridges.

But it was only the other day that we encountered some of the new content. We were on our way to Orc Watch (read: getting lost) when a window popped up with a quest in it. When we accepted it, it turned out that this was a local area based quest with a five minute timer. That’s like a red flag from the game saying, “Hey! Stop meandering and getting lost in Moria and do THIS THING, it will only take five minutes.”  So we did! “That was unexpected and a bit of extra fun”, we thought. “Not to mention a bit of extra xp.”

Further down the route, we saw a glowing orc corpse with a quest ring above it. Again, this kicked off a set of brief and very local quests which were new to us.

Then later on, we ran into the quest shown in the screenshot above. I’m pretty sure this one, which sends you off to drink to the memory of a dead dwarf with dwarves in lots of the Moria settlements, used to exist before. But now, after having a drink, the screen goes white and you just appear in the next settlement – conveniently able to pick up the horse route before having your next drink and continuing. Evidently the idea is that you are too drunk to really remember how you got there. We loved this. It’s a bit bonkers but still in theme, but does mean you can get the more far lying horse routes really easily.

Funny thing about the pop up area quests is that they kind of filled the same function for us as dynamic quests in GW2. But it didn’t matter that they actually weren’t dynamic because we were never really planning to go back that way again, and if we did it would be on the way to somewhere else and we wouldn’t really plan to divert to do a quest we’d probably done before anyway.

Short form: Quick popup quests are good, especially when they are unexpected. Moria is still pretty cool, and the revamp kept all the cool stuff.

LotRO: the Endgame Experience

(One big difference between LOTRO raiding and WoW raiding is that although there now are some raiding guides and websites, those mostly didn’t exist when Arb’s guild did these raids. They had to work out these encounters for themselves, with a mostly casual player base. Even now, raid guilds are quite cagey about sharing their tactics for more recent raids …)

First of all, some disclaimers:

I’m in a fairly casual kinship in LotRO, but we’re big and we have a lot of players that enjoy raid content, myself included. We’re a mature bunch who’ve built up a certain level of skill playing together and we’ve always managed to clear endgame content just before a new addition to the game. Because we take it quite casually, we have a rotating raid group rather than a fixed one, where anyone who wants to (and who has the required radiance) can join the pool. This has worked in my favour and against it as we have had a fluctuating number of Captains, and somehow people still find Captains useful in raids ;p

I’ve been playing LotRO since just before the official launch in Europe. I don’t really like to alt, so I’ve stuck with my Captain throughout. That’s a melee secondary healer to you non-LotRO folks (and to many LotRO folks who don’t really pay attention to what Captains do much). We can heal, we can buff, we can use a get-out combination of skills which reduces damage across our entire group by 50% and takes it upon ourselves, coupled with a self-invulnerability which lasts a short time. It’s the latter thing we are seen as ‘essential’ for. We do a TON of other stuff, and contrary to popular belief we even do some dps!! But the heal/buff/last stand combo are the raid essentials.

I do also have a Minstrel (primary healer) which I levelled up purely to help with Rift raids in the early raiding days before the kin swelled a lot, but I never got the Minstrel any radiance or to level 65 – I’ve let it languish at level 64 out of pure stubbornness. So, I have a Captain.

Helegrod

thorog

Thorog

The first LotRO raid is Helegrod, soon to be scaleable, so everyone that skipped it can go back and do it in chunks at appropriate levels. The end boss is an undead dragon. It’s a throwback to the old days of LotRO, a raid designed for 24 with distinct ‘wings’ – the giants, the spiders, and the dragons, leading up to the big fight in the centre. Not a lot of casual kins did it because of the 24-man requirement and the end boss, Thorog, was a notoriously nasty fight that Turbine needed to tweak a lot, and which changed quite often. I’ve done it a couple of times and it holds a good whack of nostalgia for me, so I do look forward to returning to that one soon (with the Free-to-Play a lot of old content has been retooled and made scaleable and given radiance rewards, so you’ll be able to get your radiance gear from your choice of a variety of places).

The Rift

Then entered the Rift, so so controversial at the time for introducing Thaurlach to the world – a Balrog that /players/ could fight and kill. Well, with the help of a First Age elf to keep within the bounds of the Lore, but still. Wow, I remember at the time I didn’t like the idea one bit, and yet, for many of us the Rift represents the halcyon days before radiance gating made raiding in LotRO feel like a chore that only the select few who worked hard on their radiance to take part in.

The Rift is 12-man, and introduces the Eldgang (a slow and sonorous race, who’ve been a little conned by Evil), the fights are challenging, as any raid – and learning them certainly presented many months of week-in, week-out failures and little successes. Many of our amusing raid tales stem from the Rift; little slip-ups that became comical. And, through nostalgia, we forget the relentless depression of some of the wipes, the frustration over learning how to take on Thrang (second-to-last boss).

But, it was the taking down of the Balrog that gave me personally my first really excited/relieved/cheering moment in LotRO raiding. At the time we had a fairly fixed group with some revolving dps classes, and many of us went for every single raid. It was a big commitment, and it paid off. While we needed a big break from it at one point, I now really love going back there to show it to others, or just have a nostalgia kick with the benefit of some level 65s being along.

Moria, and Radiance Gear

With Moria, we gained a ton of new 6-man instances, all needed for radiance. Initially they had to be done a ton of times, now the process is streamlined, there’s also some 3-man radiance instances and as I said before, soon you’ll be able to get radiance from all sorts of places including the Annuminas instances which are a ton of fun – so I definitely recommend them, they were my favourite ones to work out the tactics for, and they’re not really done that much these days. Why back to instances from raids? Because with Moria we had radiance gating, something that separated those who COULD raid gearwise, and those who needed more gear to do so. We also got two one-boss raids; the turtle and the Watcher in the Water.

The turtle is a gateway drug raid. One boss, no radiance needed, but drops tokens and the occasional radiance piece. It’s a dps race, not THAT interesting or exciting, but it’s there and you can practise working as a 12-man group there. Once you get the tactic and you have a relatively decent mix of classes, you’re good to go. The last proper non-gated, ‘pick-uppable’ LotRO raid. The Watcher is a 3-stage raid, which is tough on positioning at first and then demands some element of focus and stamina and knowing how to play the raid. It’s short when you know it, but it’s caused more wipes because of its length than many!! Expect big repair bills. It also needs radiance, so you need to play other parts of the game to even get in there.

Dar Narbugud

Then the 12-man raid in Moria – Dar Narbugud. It’s dark and dank and takes place underground, working through corrupted orcs/goblins/many ugly pestilent thingies and it has some challenging and interesting encounters. It involves more radiance than the Watcher and has more bosses (6), leading to The Mistress of Pestilence (a giant slug thingie). I used to find it quite depressing and again, had to make almost every raid night as we were down on Captains at the time. But, when you get to the knotty bits of tricky fights, I enjoyed it again. Hell, now I’m almost nostalgic for the place, which just shows you how crazy our minds are.

Mirkwood and Dol Guldur

And Mirkwood, more radiance needed, more 3-mans and a 6-man to get you the higher radiance needed for the final LotRO raid of the moment; Barad Guldur in Dol Guldur, leading to a fight with a… Nazgul. Not as controversial as a Balrog, after all, there were more Nazgul in the books, right? And it needs the highest radiance, and is probably the least forgiving of any of the raids in terms of positioning, being on focus and lots of tricky tactics to take on board. Really, people should raid in the mornings not when starting to feel sleepy! Anyway, it only has 3 bosses, but you have to do them in both normal and challenge modes to really get all the gear/deeds from the raid. Which is actually kind of annoying, because the fights don’t change THAT much between the modes, they’re just harder/easier. For me, I think it’s meant it’s grown old faster than the old 6-boss content. We’ve done the first two bosses both ways, but inconsistently, and we just have the Nazgul left – it’s not a particularly enjoyable fight for me, but I have no doubt we’ll get it on ‘farm’ eventually.

High Points of LOTRO Raiding

Rather than focusing on the negative and my dislike for the radiance gating, I thought I’d end this piece with a list of my favourite raid encounters from LotRO so far:

  • the Barad Guldur non-stop fight gauntlet – I love the mania, and I feel I actually make a difference, but mainly I like the mania
  • the spider boss fight in Helegrod (I love being a poison bomb, honest!)
  • Thrang in the Rift (because I love the Eldgang dialogue during it, I adored working it out however frustrating, and it’s multi-stage flows really really well)
  • Istum in Dar Narbugud for.. the mania (work out a pattern here), well, it always feels like an accomplishment to kill him, however skilled and experienced we are – acid pools, exploding worms – what’s not to love?

It’s always great to get the end boss down, sure.. and I love the housing trophies they drop, but sometimes we forget the journeys.

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LOTRO: Introduction to Skirmishing

dinkydino666 has written a fantastic introduction to skirmishes on the EU LOTRO forums, complete with extensive screenshots. I’m glad I found it before it got pushed so far down the boards that it was lost forever to posterity.

Brief Summary of my Day 1 of Mirkwood

Downloaded patch data previously using link given by codemasters on twitter (did I mention that I love twitter?), they also posted about it on the official forums. Patched game up smoothly, logged in, and as usual spent 2 mins thinking, “Where am I? Why did I log out here? And where are my pants?”

Worked out that I was in Moria. Being surrounded by dwarves and in stone caves helped with this. Moria is stunningly beautiful when I’m not getting lost there or eaten by the monster-du-jour. It also contains relatively few spiders compared to the rest of Middle Earth, a deficiency that I imagine Mirkwood will more than make up for. If I was a dwarf, I would totally give respect to my ancestors to building all of that, and would also wonder how much it cost and whether they could have spent it on something more productive like curing cancer.

Hoofed it via goat to the 21st Hall, centre nexus of Moria. Located the skirmish camp off to the side and picked up the introductory quest which required me to go kill some orcs. Trauma, I am in Moria, wherever will I find an orc? Oh wait … that would be everywhere.

I head off in a random direction to locate orcs and kill a couple, enough to realise that the drop rate for the quest item is less than 50%. I then get annoyed by a loremaster stealing my kills — any stealther will be familiar with the frustration of having some ranged nuker throw a fireball at the mob you were just about to backstab — and explore further afield to find some orcs of my own.

Hm, not been here before. I see a questgiver! Shiny! Apparently I have located a crafting instance and I had actually been there before but had forgotten and hadn’t actually been into the instance anyway. I think .. well, maybe I can kill two birds with one stone here and pick up the instance quests. I have an hour to clear the place. I zone in and … it’s full of orcs. Bliss. Just me and them, all on our own, and not a loremaster in sight.

I complete the crafting instance neatly, with much stealthing, waiting for patrols, careful pulling and crowd control. And I complete my skirmish quest as well as picking up a load of wood to sell later. Result. A couple of my legendary items also level up, so I head back to the 21st hall to hand everything in and reforge my tools. I notice that all my weapon damage has increased. I still think I kill things slowly but that’s because anything is slower than the way I two shot same level mobs in WoW.

Off to the skirmishes and I’m now able to port into the tutorial — it’s snowing in Bree. Everyone on chat channels seems way more excited about the snow than the skirmish. I have a minion as well. We liberate Bree but I suspect I was doing most of the work — the quest NPC agrees and gives some pointers on how I can improve my minion’s usefulness.

I debate on what class I’d like him (or her) to be and decide on a tank so that I can focus on crowd control, debuffs, and generally killing stuff while he gets his face beaten in. I notice that my tank minion is now a dwarf, this is a good thing. I feel safer with a dwarf tanking for me, and have no idea why that might be.

I try a skirmish and do not die instantly. We’ll call that a success. The skirmishes all seem to involve waves of mobs which you have to kill. The next wave does not generally arrive until the last one has fallen — this may not be true for the Barrow Downs skirmish which is timed. Some mobs are accompanied by lieutenants, mini-bosses with different abilities. There are also random events that may occur in each skirmish which you can get more marks for dealing with.

After every few waves, you get a short break to catch your breath. It is continual action other than that, and even on the easiest mode it will feel as though you are constantly fighting. They last about 30 minutes, depending on how quickly you kill mobs and whether or not you die. My quickest time through was 21 minutes, but it does depend on the specific skirmish.

The skirmishes do involve other NPCs who fight with you. They break crowd control like pros. My minion on the other hand was well behaved and did not. On the other hand, the minion does do his or her own thing. The only control you have is directing which mob they should attack, and via which skills you decide to buy for them.

I was also able to try a group skirmish which was similar, but involved more mobs, tougher mini bosses and additional objectives other than just defending the NPCs. It was terrifically fun in a vaguely chaotic way. Everyone was able to summon their skirmish minions so there were a lot of bodies on screen.

I bought archer traits for my guy to use in the group skirmish (figuring that since we had an actual player tank, my minion was only going to get in the way). I suspect that people will tend to respec their minions as needed, but for now it’s easier to focus on improving one set of skills for them.

Being as how this is LOTRO, there are also traits for just about everything skirmish related. Traits for how many times you have completed a skirmish, traits for how many times you have killed a specific miniboss, and so on. The traits  reward more skirmish marks, which can be spent on customising your minion or on gear or consumables (a nice nod to the raiders, I think, I’d much rather do a skirmish or two to get my alchemy elixirs and potions than have to grind daily quests.) And of course you can also buy more cosmetic gear and items for your house. Whilst I like my current cosmetic appearance, I guess a psychedelic bathrobe doesn’t really scream ‘burglar’ and I might try for something more in character.

My first impressions are definitely positive, and I’ll write about this in more depth next week after I have had more time with the game.

It was fun running the solo crafting instance, then switching to skirmishes as a change of pace. Mixing in quests and monster play as desired means that LOTRO offers a very solid mix of single player gameplay these days. (I am mostly soloing because I’m behind the curve and I’m expecting that my friends will be keen to try out the Mirkwood content — I expect to catch up soon enough and it’s easy enough to sort out group skirmishes if people have 30 mins to spare.)  The skirmishes are fast and furious and not something to do for pure relaxation – they are also excellent xp for levellers.

LOTRO: living the fanfic dream?

Lord of the Rings Online is a game that you either love or hate. This will largely revolve around how you feel about Tolkein’s world. If you love it, you’ll put up with the duller parts of the experience and revel in the fantastic parts. If not, you’ll spend a lot of time being bored and wondering what the fuss was about.

It’s an MMO that you have to treat as an experience as much as a game (ie. some of the gameplay leaves a lot to be desired, of which more later.)

Quick LOTRO update:

My runekeeper reached the dizzy heights of level 21.

On the bright side, she does seem to have come on in leaps and bounds as a soloer. still not great but I feel able to handle 2-3 mobs of my own level, and either win or survive long enough to get away. I still like the general class design but find some of the abilities a tad weak, I don’t really like the amount of time it takes to switch attunement from healing to damage. It’s really designed for use in groups, not soloing (a mob will probably be dead before you’re fully attuned for damage).

On the downside, she is now deeply ensconced into questing in the Lone Lands. It’s pretty dull, to say the least. This is your grandmother’s style of questing. “Kill 10 Lynxes.” “Now go back and kill 10 spiders.” “Now go back and kill another 10 lynxes.” “Now we’d like you to run from one end of the zone to the other and back again.”

People in general have been very friendly, polite, and literate. It’s a game that tends to attract an older, more cooperative crowd. I’ve been offered free crafted goods, help with quests, and company while I ran from one end of the zone to the other. Even the person who asked me for help in a low level quest in a distant zone was polite about it.

Enough Lone Lands, what about Moria?

my burglar

my burglar

So, bored of the Lone Lands quests, I was nudged by my guildies to log my old burglar in and check out some of the new content. She was last seen at level 50 stuck halfway through volume 1 book 8 (if you know what that means, you are probably groaning and remembering that quest).

Harbouring painful memories of the past, I decided to ditch the old content and head straight to Rivendell to pick up on the prelude to volume 2. Note: Volume 1 covers the storyline quests for the original game, Volume 2 is expansion content.

(If anyone is interested in comparing experiences, Zubon@Kill Ten Rats has been checking out Moria also, but unlike me he wasn’t lazy and finished off volume 1 first :) )

I spoke to Elrond who remembered me, touchingly,  and sent me off to help the fellowship prepare for their journey onwards. This led to a series of one man instanced quests in which I was able to go and talk to them, get chatted up by Boromir (any time Sean, your place or mine?), and was finally invited by Elrond to come and see them leave.

It’s well written and convincing and … yes, feels as though you’re there in the film with them. Gandalf even turns to your character as they leave and says that he wishes  you could come also, but they could only take 9. (Silly? Well, maybe a bit, but you’d have to have a heart of stone to be a Tolkein fan and not be even a little charmed at the conceit.)

There is no other game that offers this kind of experience. For all the great things that Wrath does right (and there are many), you feel like an adjunct to the NPCs. In LOTRO, even though you actually ARE an adjunct to the NPCs, you feel as though you personally are part of the story.

The experience is then somewhat dulled because you’re back to regular questing until you get to the next part of the storyline (ie. book 1). It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Remember those ‘Kill 10 lynxes’ quests I was talking about in the Lone Lands? They’re back with a vengeance. And I grant a special mention to the Pembar questline that sent me back to the same half orc settlement no fewer than 5 different times, from 2 different quest hubs. Often to kill the exact same mobs again and again. That is what regular questing is like in LOTRO, with some exploring for traits thrown in.

I am very very lucky to have a wonderful sister who plays a Captain which means I didn’t have to actually ride down from Rivendell to Eregion — Captains can summon you around the world.

At any rate, I got around to book 1 which again was a brilliant, immersive and well narrated experience. It involved some nicely put together instances, side quests, and again I was deeply involved in the story. The writing is simply superb. Also, when an NPC gets grabbed by a tentacle from a murky pool and tells you to run — RUN!

But the best part is that at the end, you are presented with a legendary weapon of your very own.

Say hello to my little friend

The legendary weapons that level with you are one of the big draws of this expansion. And they are utterly brilliant in concept.

Your weapon gains xp any time you kill something (I am told there are special weapon xp gaining instances at max level also). It also has traits, which are similar to glyphs in Warcraft. Each trait typically affects one of your abilities. So for example, my burglar’s dagger increases the range on one ability, increases the crit chance on another, and so on. The difference is, when your weapon goes up a level — which happens very very fast at low levels — it gets some weapon xp which you can spend to either increase the power of one of its traits or increase its base dps.

Every 10 levels, you can go and have your weapon reforged, which gives it an extra trait. You also can occasionally do quests which reward you with a scroll of naming that lets you add additional abilities to the weapon, such as extra damage to a certain type of creature or a change in the weapon’s damage type.

Suddenly, those grindy quests became a lot less dull for me. I was levelling my cool dagger! And I’m told that eventually you get to name it yourself also.

I find this legendary weapon mechanic far far more fun than it has a right to be in practice. And it is my top pick for ‘ideas that WoW will nick for its next expansion.’

So, in summary so far

I think that Lord of the Rings Online is a game of extremes. They do some things brilliantly, awesomely, incredibly well … and others are painfully lacklustre. So how you feel about the game will depend very much on:

1. Are you so entranced by the good parts that you can overlook the dull parts?

2. How much do you like Tolkein’s worldbuilding? Have you ever secretly wanted to adventure in Middle Earth and meet the NPCs from the books?

To an extent, 1 is true of most games. Just in LOTRO the great bits are so amazingly good, and the dull parts are … amazingly dull.

And now if you’ll excuse me, my dagger is just a few kills short of level 11…