[GW2] Paws-on at Comic Con

Starting with some admissions:

1. I very very very very rarely actually watch any pre-release videos or trailers these days, am a bit strung out on hype for MMOs

2. I’m in a massive MMO rut at the moment due to extended periods of back pain and 8 weeks of physio when I was told not to sit upright for more than 30m, this has made me as disinterested in games as I’ve ever been (thus the lack of blogging)

3. Have never played or seen Guild Wars, know very little about it. Knew GW2 was upcoming and lots of my friends were starting to get excited about it, but have been far too lazy to read ANYTHING about it.

4. Of course, I still told people I’d go to the Comic Con Guild Wars 2 panel, but it clashed with a TV show one I /really/ wanted to see, so I bailed on that promise, and just read Spinks’ live-tweets of the panel. Sounded pretty good.

When Spinks joined me, after whatever I’d been doing and told me about her Guild Wars 2 hands-on, I was intrigued. I still didn’t know much about the graphics or background to the game, but it was enough to colour me intrigued. And though I was fairly sure I wouldn’t get a chance to spend 40m playing the game, I kind of wanted to for the first time. I think the fact they gave you 40m to play, and I’d had a 5m look over people’s shoulders the first day was what really caught my attention.

Bex Sat 061

And on the final day of Comic Con, when the queues for the panels we wanted to see were heinously long, we decided to revisit the Exhibit Hall. First to see how crazy the SWTOR lines were first thing, and secondly to see if I could play some Guild Wars 2. SWTOR had a 2h wait, so we dashed over to Guild Wars 2 – which was actually a LONG WAY away. While Spinks was looking over some shoulders, I, with ninja-reflexes honed on the London Underground, spotted a free demo computer and scuttled in – then yelled at Spinks to come join me (after I’d created my char, ofc).

So I made a female norn, for mostly the same reasons as she did. The humans and charr all started at higher levels and I wanted to see if the new player experience was as cool as she’d said. Yeah, sisters – we’re suspicious of one another until proven otherwise. I can’t remember all the bits I picked for my character, except it involved being drunk, losing things and then.. I made her a ranger. No idea why, I’m totally not a ranged dps kind of gal, but of the options available I figured it’d be easy to get to grips with. I didn’t fancy a warrior and I don’t generally like casters much, and as I knew Spinks had tried the engineer. And so Nim the Norn was born. Best initial bit, they asked what animal companion I wanted between bear, wolf, and snow leopard. As anyone who knows me will attest, this was NO-CHOICE. There was a large cat, and it got picked. This pleased me right away (though honestly, I like wolves and bears too!).

I think honestly, that Spinks probably has more of a sense of what I did than I did. Which actually bodes really well for the game for me, and also backs up some of her comments. I know I intended to pick up a bunch of quests at the first hub and go do them. This got immediately derailed when I was handing in my first quest and one of the next questgivers asked me to help him guard some booze which he was transporting on massive cow-like-thing to a nearby town. Guarding booze? Right up my alley, and one of the options was ‘I’m ready to leave now’.. so without thinking about my original plans, I just set off. We killed stuff, I marvelled at the giant cow-like-thing, and as I killed stuff some ‘events’ got updated (to kill x number of bad faction people – yes, deal with it, I remembered NO names), but I didn’t even feel like I needed to stay and do the event – I was far too focussed on delivering booze safely. Which we did. Heroism = booze delivery!


Then, I explored a little randomly as I got a bit turned around and lost trying to find something on my map. I left the demo zone a couple of times and got warned to turn back, so once I got the hang of directions, I headed firmly back into the zone. And that’s when things got super cute. I found a hill with a Shaman of Snow Leopard on it, asking me to honour Snow Leopard.. I was very much in the ‘blah blah, skim read, do stuff as quickly as possible’ mode when I realised one of the text options was ‘transform me into a snow leopard’. And there were snow leopard cubs around me. Oh yes, I found a quest to be turned into a snow leopard and perform tasks which would honour my totem; by cuddling cubs, killing wildlife, or reviving injured snow leopards. This wasn’t a ranger quest, but available to all. It gave a kind of faction bar, which I could increase by doing any of the tasks mentioned. I, of course, cuddled LOTS of cubs. Spinks said at this point I actually just grinned at the screen. But more sensibly, I was really impressed I could mix and match the tasks to fill the bar, and it didn’t take very long at all either.

After this excitement, I only had around 10m left and decided more random quests were in order, though I started off doing the next one I was given by the Shaman.. which triggered more events, and which I was idly doing just to test out my skills. My pet died a few times, but I blame it much more on my actual skills and not paying attention than anything else, since I actually had a self+pet heal ability! While exploring some caves for this event (another kill x thingies quest), I saw I was down to 5m and also found some water. Knowing only that underwater was a whole ‘cool’ thing about GW2, I readily dove in. Yes, I got a face mask immediately, which let me breath underwater. Loved it. Got new skills too, relevant to underwater, and a quest to pick some underwater flowers. Now, I’ve played a fair few MMOs, and I found the swimming very easy to get a hang of. I didn’t have anything to fight, so unfortunately didn’t get to test out any skills, but we did get to see some swimming at least, so I was quite proud of myself for that.

Overall, I came away with a kind of glowing feeling. The 40m sped by, and I’m excited that in a live game I’d have time to really build my character and learn a lot more about it and its skills. It’s a very pretty game and plays nicely, it felt extremely intuitive – which is what I need while in gaming doldrums. From being remotely interested in the game, it’s become a must-buy for me. Of course, there’s no guarantees I’ll love more than the low level game, but what the hell, I’ll take that right now. I know Spinks commented that for her it was like the WoW beta, for me I felt a twinge of Dark Age of Camelot. No idea why, but I guess that was the fierce loyalty I felt almost immediately and for no tangible reason.

The specs we played on, for reference:

Bex Sat 059

[SWTOR] Be very quiet, we’re hunting bounties!

Band together with your most trusted allies to undertake some of the most dangerous missions in the galaxy! Flashpoints are action-packed, story-driven adventures that test a group of players to their limits, putting them up against difficult foes in volatile situations. You and your group need your wits, your skills, and all your resources to emerge victorious. Every Flashpoint begins with an exciting story and contains difficult decisions – choose carefully, because your group’s choices have a meaningful impact on the challenges you’ll face, the enemies you’ll fight, and the outcome of the story! All the danger is certainly worthwhile; the rewards from Flashpoints are some of the most powerful you’ll find.

That’s description we’re given for flashpoints on the official SWTOR website  – so basically think of them any kind of group content you’ve done before, mostly like dungeons/instances. I was lucky enough to get through a random selection to play one hour of a flashpoint during Comic Con – an opportunity I’m very grateful to Bioware for. And I was allowed to take a +1, so Spinks could at least come watch with me.

Bioware Base

Now, it wasn’t so easy to find our way in. The guy at the front told us to go to the back, where the door was locked. Being enterprising (and this is before we were in-game) we managed to sneak into the back door and find where the queue was for the flashpoint, at which point my ID was checked and we stood for only around 5m before we went in to play. I’d been assigned the Empire flashpoint Black Talon (first one for Empire players) and each of four computers had a class set up on it ready for action (there were 2 sets of Empire players and 2 sets of Republic ones, so 16 of us in total). The seat I ended up on was that of the Bounty Hunter ‘stupidname’ (ok, the name was something that reminded me of Hashish, so Hash-hash or something! It made me laugh anyway). I was sitting between two guys who OBVIOUSLY were obsessed fans, and another girl rounded out the group at the end. Amusingly, and not-at-all-insultingly, I think both female players were ‘helped’ by the male ones, and also by the staff when we had to reset the instance..

So, I got to play a Bounty Hunter for an hour, even though I very very rarely play ranged classes. It’s ok though, there weren’t many skills to learn, but I got around 30s to check them out before we set off. I had a normal shot, a multi-shot, a ‘death from above’ where I hovered and shot lots, a melee hit (rocket punch) and a brief stun, also a shot that worked only on stunned mobs. In addition a self-heal for use out of combat which I ended up using a lot. In this set-up I should also mention I felt fairly overwhelmed and quite a bit intimidated by the assumption I’d know a lot about the game and not need any time to get going. Dropping in at level 9 isn’t so bad, not unless everyone around you wants to go as fast as possible to voraciously see as much content as possible within the time. But being fairly resilient, I cracked on and at some points was actually running ahead of my group!

So, first let’s mention the look of the game. Much nicer than I imagined. Yes, the chars are more on the cartoony style than the photorealistic one, but with odd races and strange colour combinations, I actually preferred this. Animations were smooth and looked natural, both for simple things like running and also for fast-paced combat. Of course our group voted to kill the Captain not to take him hostage (one of the first decisions in the flashpoint and not a super spoiler I hope, since it’s been out there for a while). But after that it was pretty much all combat and exploration. Ressing one another was apparently possible, I’ve read a few write-ups of the flashpoint, but no-one told our group that so we did many death runs until we got a sense of working together as a group – the deaths were all dumb and much less likely to occur in release when you’re either playing with friends or have time to stop and discuss what’s working and what isn’t.

The dialogue wheel was as expected, though Spinks & I later commented on what it would be like to play with people who read slowly, or super fast, or were non-native English speakers. All responses have to be clicked before the game determines which to use. It’s the same when interacting with lifts, everyone has to select the floor they want to go to. Was fine when there was time pressure and everyone was super-keen, but I can imagine it’ll have a few disadvantages also. We were mostly upset that my fab sarcastic responses weren’t often the winning ones, so I only got to hear my char speak a few times. The voices I heard were all really well acted – but my sound had been mostly turned off for some reason, still meant we could check out all the subtitles and Spinks had some idea what was going on in the flashpoint.

And so we ran around a spaceship and killed lots of stuff, some humanoid, some not. I found some explosives to blow up, I rolled need instead of greed because I’d not seen the looting system before, etc etc. I quite liked the pillars of light denoting loot on bodies – hard to miss them. And it all played very much like every other MMO in terms of button-pressing, running around et al. I liked the speed of combat and how it felt very dynamic, though I found ground targetting my ‘death from above’ skill was a bit of a pain, and by the time my manual dexterity had managed it, the group often didn’t need my dps anymore. I did a LOT of damage and frequently pulled aggro, I loved shooting while running though, even if it meant I did some amusingly accidental pulls (hey, I was ranged dps, that’s like part of the job description). We got to fight some mini-bosses that were tough and required a little more coordination, or thoughtful fighting at least. And we got to see the objectives update organically within our ‘quest’ and give us new side tasks to do (like killing x number of enemy soldiers). It’s not too hard to see Mythic’s influence and knowledge of public quests there, but it feels a lot more organic – at least within a flashpoint where you’re already there as a group and doing these things automatically.

So, why didn’t I rush home and pre-order SWTOR? Well, I’m still not sure it’s for me. It’s fun, that’s for sure, and I do trust Bioware to give us a really good product suitable for months of use with multiple alts all not having the same stories.. but, it didn’t grab me. I don’t know if it’s just the setting, or just being dropped in and I’ll definitely give it a play when it’s released – but it didn’t grab me as a ‘must play’. Still, even having said that, if you’re interested in the game, I don’t have anything bad to say about it – so that should come as a welcome relief!

A Game of Hormones

While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

I realise this is mostly a gaming blog, but I felt it was probably worth dropping in a quick comment about female geeks. Both me and Spinks are female, and you may have guessed that geekiness runs proudly in our blood. As children we asked for the original D&D boxset to play with our other sister, and we’ve been playing tabletop and computer RPGs ever since. We read sci-fi and fantasy along with more ‘mainstream’ fiction, but honestly, for me the SF fiction IS mainstream, it’s what my friends read, it’s what I enjoy most. We read comics, we understand the tech we use, we love gadgets as much as any of our male friends. And – we both LOVED the Song of Ice and Fire series and are very excited about the forthcoming HBO adaptation of ‘A Game of Thrones’ (starting on sunday 17th in the US and monday 18th in the UK).

The above quotation is a clip from the New York Times preview of the show, written by a woman. It’s quickly becoming infamous, as women around the internet step up to rubbish its claims. It’s worth a read purely because it’s a really bad piece of journalism. Not because the comments about women offend me, but because it makes so few comments  about characterisation, storyline, style – all the things I might want to know about a TV show that’s new. Instead, it comments about the sexual shenanigans and the genre – clearly one the writer doesn’t enjoy one bit. Even in reference to the sex on the show, she writes:

The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise.

Yeah, I watch shows for the sex scenes, I really do. Especially while my husband can enjoy all the politics, violence and swordplay. What am I looking forward to about the show, for that matter? Well, seeing the deep and rich characters from the books brought to life with sumptuous settings and HBO financing. I’ve read the books, my husband hasn’t, as it happens. We’re going to see how differently we react to the TV show while watching it together. I do love fantasy books, he tends to prefer hard science fiction. But when I recommend ‘A Game of Thrones’ to people (and remember I work in a library so I get to do this a fair bit), it’s because it’s not all swords and sorcery – it’s got incredibly complex characters and storylines, politics plays more of a role than magic and there are NO ELVES (yet!). It’s fantasy but written more like a historical novel (a genre of books that, by the way, seems to appeal to women as much as to men from my basic observations at work). And I think because of all the intrigue and the fantastic setting, it fits really well within the HBO remit that includes True Blood, The Sopranos, Rome and The Wire. In fact, I think it relates more to Rome than to True Blood, if it comes down to it.

The article has received many better responses than I could ever give. Here’s a selection of my favourites:

Reading them gives me hope!

There is a Lt that Never Goes Out…

…Well, until he does. Repeatedly.

To set the scene, the Lieutenant of Barad Guldur is the current final boss in LotRO. He rides a fell beast, and he’s /actually/ a Nazgul. Yes, we get to fight a Nazgul in Book 1, but not to actually kill one until the end of the Mirkwood content. It’s an unforgiving fight and we’ve been plugging away at Barad Guldur for at least 6 months – months that seem to have dragged for me.

I’ve made no secret of my disdain for the design in Barad Guldur, though I’ve enjoyed all of LotRO’s previous raids (The Rift is awesome and you get to kill a Balrog, Helegrod has a massive undead dragon as a boss and is the only 24-man content in the game, Dar Narbugud has some interesting boss fights, through a multi-boss adventure). Barad Guldur has 3 boss fights. You can do all of them in normal or challenge mode. But that means instead of 6 bosses, you have 3 bosses that you fight twice in the course of conquering all the content in all possible ways. To me, that made it feel like it dragged on a lot longer.

We’ve also had a rotating raid group which doesn’t help with getting content down fast, but has been more sociable, for sure. So while I’m sure the length of time we’ve been bashing away at the content has suffered because of this – it’s just a fact of life for our kin and has only really impacted me because we don’t have many Capts so even when I want a night off, I tend to sign up to make sure the numbers are reached.

The start of Barad Guldur is awesome, a gauntlet you have to complete within a timeframe (it resets completely after 45m) where you rush up flights of stairs and get waves of Uruks, goblins and wargs. As chaotic fights go it’s awesome, and just the kind of content I like. But, after that, the instance falls a bit flat for me. The fights continue to be interesting, the first few times anyway, but they’re slow and repetitive. And, of course, because of radiance, you can’t just plough through bosses 1 and 2 on normal mode just to get to the Lieutenant fight.. no, it makes more sense to gear up the raid as much as possible with both normal and challenge mode armour drops. That definitely helped our survivability.

Anyway, back to the Lieutenant. The fight takes place at the top of the tower (and yes, if you wipe you have a stupidly long run up a zillion flights of stairs to go back to the fight). In the first phase, the group attacks the fell beast with the Lieutenant mounted upon it, and when it gets down to 150k health, the Lieutenant will dismount and the next phase begins. DPS is king in the first stage (without going into dull tactics), there’s a huge benefit to getting to the transition as quickly as possible. The second phase, involves tanking the Lieutenant and killing the beast and then the raid can concentrate on the final boss in phase 3. That makes it all sound so simple. It’s a very unforgiving fight and not much fun for melee, generally. There’s 10% power regen only throughout the fight. If anyone dies while the Lieutenant is dismounted, we’ve had almost certain wipes (though, I believe it’s not a certainty and there are tactics to deal with that, but not ones we’ve mastered).

So it’s taken us a while, and has felt like the longest slog in my raiding career. And yet last week we did it on second attempt, and this week we did it first time. It’s a relief sure. A pain that I’m top of the loot list and don’t especially want the armour drop (radiance is being got rid of next update and it’s not a great stats set for Capts), but I still think people should thank me for not being selfish and taking it anyway, cos I’m a total brat :-). But looting aside, it’s a definite relief and one that couldn’t have come soon enough. Not sure WHY we suddenly made this progress. We barely got the numbers to raid from the start of December till last week, to the stage the raid group almost fell apart. Without going too much into kin politics though, we really thought our chances were all over, until someone from outside the group suggested we might not go again – and suddenly sign-ups were up, we recruited another couple of possibles and last week managed to get locks for just the Lieutenant from the other raiding group in the kin (because not enough of us could make our initial raiding night when we’d traditionally do bosses 1 and 2).

Four-week break and not having to go on Friday seemed to do the business, though. But then this week we repeated the triumph after having cleared the first two bosses on Friday and then killed the Lieutenant first time. Obviously sometimes a break and a bit of a push is needed. Yes, we tweaked our tactics a bit, but not so much that I think any of us thought we’d have such a massive push of progress (previously we’ve killed the beast only 4-5 times, I think and then wiped within 30s). But, it’s all good and whatever it takes. Our kin is very good at killing the final baddie just before new content emerges, and we’ve done it again. Hurrah!



Because there are no bodies to take screenshots of, they disappear immediately. And that SUCKS.

Can You Dig It?

Raptor mount

Recently I’ve been doing quite a bit of Archaeology on my Horde level 85 char. This is the same char I switched over from Alliance and duoing with Spinks, to join her much larger guild over on the Horde side. I love being a goblin, I seriously do. But I’m finding it quite overwhelming to be part of a really really organised guild, all of whom know what they’re doing. I loved getting to 85, but instead of plunging into gearing up and running dungeons and heroics, I’ve been finding solace in Archaeology, the latest profession added to World of Warcraft. It’s pretty fun, very relaxing and a hell of a pain to level up from scratch – but I’m sure fishing would take me just as long and not take me to such interesting places!

WoWScrnShot_012111_192448I started Archaeology on an alt and then quickly decided to pursue it on my ‘main’ first. I say ‘main’ like that, because I’m also playing a Dwarf Shaman with friends from LotRO, and I’m actually playing that more – possibly because I’m not ready for endgame at the moment. So Kizi the Goblin Shaman has taken to her bronze drake to seek out the corners of Azeroth that might locate artifacts that can make her some ready cash!! And once you get the hang of surveying and following little telescopes and lights to find items, and then how to make the various artifacts, then.. then you realise how clever the profession is – it shows you right at the start of every artifact what you’re going to be working on. So just as I was tired and going to take a break, I got to start working on the fossilised pet.

That spurred me on, and then a few sessions later the Fossilized Raptor showed up on my list, needing tons of fossils to ‘discover’ it. I looked up what it was, and when I found out it was a mount I spent a lot more time in-game, on the right server and doing as much surveying as I could. It took me quite a few sessions, cursing every time I was directed to Troll or Night Elf artifacts and dashing every moment I knew it was a fossil area. Until I eventually got the mount, and I love it! I have no idea what they’ll lure me in with next, but it’s a really nice way for me to hang out with the guild – all of whom I like a lot – but to distract them from the fact I’m not running dungeons, I’m busy, so that’s ok!

Finally, a little screenshot of the first thing in-game that made Archaeology stand out to me:


The Shape of Things to Come

This morning, I spent some time back in Middle Earth, mostly because I’d caught up with yesterday’s twitter comments. There’s been a new development, and it’s actually hit the EU servers at the same time as the US ones (nice work all involved). Five mysterious relic stones have appeared throughout Middle Earth, and are heralded by a letter that appeared on both Turbine and Codemasters’ forums:

Numerous residents of Oatbarton and the surrounding communities were aware of my intention to submit plants from my pipe-weed crop to this year’s Growers’ Festival. You may contact me for names of good, honest folk who can attest to this, such as my wife Opaline or our good friend Rosalyn Smallburrow, also of Oatbarton.

I have not changed my growing habits or techniques since last year, so there is little reason to expect that my submission for this year’s festival would be of lesser quality than my previous, prize-winning entries. I do not mean to boast, but my pipe-weed plants were shaping up to be of even higher quality than in years past! You can speak to the individuals noted above for their opinions, and they will certainly agree that my pipe-weed crop was proceeding exceedingly well for the season.

Given those facts, you can see that I take a great deal of pride in the quality of my pipe-weed. Imagine my alarm when I woke up this morning, drank my morning tea, prepared a small breakfast, and took my customary mid-morning stroll to observe my plants… and found them withered, brown, and wilted! They will win no prizes in this state! They are fit only for compost now! Unimaginable!

Right in the middle of my field, someone had placed a tall stone block bearing unpleasant symbols. I do not know what to call it, but I would not like it anywhere, let alone in the middle of my pipe-weed field: the pipe-weed field that was thriving yesterday, but after the appearance of this horrible thing is no more!

Starting in Oatbarton, I went to investigate and opened a deed to find five mysterious relics throughout Middle Earth. Now, being a lazy (but honest) Captain, and making use of the fact I wasn’t online on the day all of this broke, I cheated and used the guide over at Casual Stroll to Mordor, which gives locations of the stones. You don’t need to do that, there’s no real sense of hurry!

Initially, on twitter (thanks to all the people who were tweeting about this, it helped me get a sense of real occasion and also some of the speculations about the stones), there were many suggestions of what these relics could be – my favourite was that they might be tied to the five Istari (love ties to lore, after all). But, it became clear quite quickly, and from doing the deed myself – that these are heralding our new instance and raid cluster, due for February-ish. First of all, the title you get for completing the deed is ‘Calm before the Storm’. The relics all take aspects of debuffs in LotRO (there’s a fear one, a poison one, a disease one, etc), plus of course a big Evil one which almost certainly signifies the raid. Additionally, they’re all located near walled off locations, closed doors, possible instance entrances. And as mentioned by Roll One Hundred, they each signify one of five gaunt-lords (named in the comments thread as: Ivar the Blood-hand, Ferndúr the Virulent, Drugoth the Death-monger, Thadúr the Ravager, Gortheron the Doom-caller by Merric of Casual Stroll to Mordor). Interesting times, so we have the basis for a storyline leading up to the release of the next instance cluster for LotRO.

There’s some talk on forums this morning that simply doing this deed will be the gating system for allowing you to start these instances (sorry, couldn’t find the reference immediately). Remember, we’re losing radiance-gating (HURRAH!) and this seems a neat way to do it. When Turbine were asking what people would prefer to radiance, one of the options was deed-gating. It’s also become clear that you can’t complete the deed if you don’t have the relevant quest packs for the areas. So, any free-to-play players will need to stump up the cash for the various areas if they want to progress through to this deed. We have no idea if it will be a gating system though, but it does suggest the new instances will be spread throughout Middle Earth, perhaps another way to ensure quest packs are sold and used (which, in my opinion, makes  sense and would be the same as having to pay to get access to the instances!).

I have to say, I’ve been fairly down on LotRO lately, mostly due to raiding and kin issues, but this little deed sparked my attention again and showed how Turbine can drop little neat things into the game with little fanfare and manage to get us all that little bit interested again, even if you only do the deed for the cool title (which was my initial spur!).


Tell me why (I don’t like Uldum)

I’ve really enjoyed my time in WoW getting from level 80 to 85. I started at Mt Hyjal after a brief journey into Vash’jir to get a Seahorse mount. Then I moved onto Deepholm, which is the most gorgeous place to hang out for a while, even if the airship made me physically sick. And through this time I heard from others how much I’d like Uldum, how beautiful it was, how thoroughly Egyptian in mood. So I was excited when it was my next port of call. I actually found the way there a few days earlier than I’d meant to, got distracted while doing the Metzen the Reindeer quest and found the caravan headed for Uldum, and that was my introduction to the only WoW zone so far that I have extremely mixed feelings about.

Uldum is undoubtably pretty. I really loved the questline for the Ramkahen. Even the boring bits of ‘killing x’ I was quite enjoying. I adored the gnome obliteration quest (this isn’t my video of it): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dJuALvrKrw. Everything was going pretty well and the zone was living up to expectations. Until, that is, I finished that questline and wondered why it didn’t feel like the zone was done. One of my guildmates suggested I might not have finished the Harrison Jones quests, and I remembered that I had kind of wandered away from them, maybe a sign of things to come. I went to look up the ‘famed’ explorer and picked up where I’d left off.

I’m sorry world, I didn’t like it. That’s not entirely accurate, I liked good chunks of it, the bits that revolved around tomb exploration, pyramids, archaeology and even roping camels and caging pygmies. I didn’t like the Schnottz stuff. I know we needed a baddie. I liked that the bad guys were Deathwing’s (am trying to avoid TOO many spoilers here). I didn’t like Schnottz, the Hitler pastiche, the faux German accents. It made me uncomfortable. I think we’re done with the age where German accent = baddie. I didn’t really feel comfortable having Hitler as a pop-culture reference that lingered. It’s hard to explain. I’m sure I could have dealt with it for one quest, but it went on and on, and I felt more uncomfortable as it did. And that discomfort made me stop enjoying the quests. I was talking to a friend who lives in Germany and wasn’t up to Uldum yet, and I got as far as mentioning the Indiana Jones questline, but stopped short of mentioning I was currently questing for ‘a really bad guy with a Hitler moustache who speaks with a German accent’. That’s the conversation that made me realise I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it.

And then, talking to Spinks, I managed to formulate my thoughts more. It wasn’t just the German accents I didn’t like (and yeah yeah, I like Indiana Jones films, but they’re historical and set in the right period for him to be fighting Nazis!)… Uldum just seemed to take me out-of-game more than the other zones, though the Harrison Jones quests, so they became the focus for my ennui. I’m not sure if anyone else feels the same way, but since it was such an odd reaction for me, I thought it might be interesting to blog it – since I don’t often have much to say!

Point-to-Point Questing

When LotRO went free-to-play it also included the sweetener of a new region and quest hubs for long-terms players. Obviously, WoW has also just released some new content (though in a much larger expansion scenario). And because I play both games, I thought it might be interesting to compare a few things about them. Of course, the WoW content is vastly larger, it’s a full on expansion of Blizzard proportions, and in that way there’s no comparison. But interestingly enough, a lot of the LotRO content experience is reflected in the new high-end zones in WoW.

LotRO is very story-driven. From Eregion/Moria onwards the design aesthetic has been to lead characters from quest-hub to quest-hub, directing them from one to the other, but allowing for some going off-path. I can go to the last hub in Moria and pick up quests there, but I will miss the story-flow quests that direct from one to the next so I still have a choice of the order I go in, but the experience will be more fluid if I go as the designers intended. It works in LotRO because the story is one of the appealing things about the IP and one of the strong points to the MMO.

Enedwaith follows the same pattern. Characters are helping small quest hubs, while also aiding in the main storyline. You start at Fordirith and work your way down to Thror’s Coomb. There’s various landscapes from marshes to snow-capped mountains, the quests are neat and tidy and often make way to repeatable faction quests for the two factions (The Grey Company and The Algraig). The music is stand-out, my favourite to date in LotRO. Ok, so there’s not THAT much content to get through, but this isn’t a proper expansion – we didn’t pay for it and it’s been diverting.

What’s really interesting is that the new high-end areas of WoW follow a similar pattern, while offering the traditional Blizzard bling and polish. And players, not as accustomed to linear questing, are finding it a bit.. odd. You have a choice of two zones, first of all – Mount Hyjal and helping the Ancients get themselves ready for war, or the underwater and therefore ‘cooler’ Vash’jir. They both start at level 80 and you’re directed to both from capital cities when your level 80 logs into Cataclysm. Both share linear questing from small hub to small hub. But because of clever phasing (which enables the mountain to break into flower at one point) you can’t really mess up the order all that much. Sure you can go ahead and scout the area (or mine/herb/whatever) but you won’t get the same questing experience at all.

I went to Mount Hyjal first, based purely on the fact I found the portal to there first! After grabbing the first flight master at Nordrassil I got diverted by everyone talking about seahorses and underwater questing and went to Vash’jir instead. After a couple of quest hubs, I decided to go back to Mount Hyjal and finish a long chain. I like both zones. As someone quite used to linear questing, I didn’t find it off-putting at all – in fact, it made me pay more attention to the storyline I was following. I think that’s why I went back to Hyjal to see it through to the end. I’m really really loving the storyline, something I’ve not personally felt in WoW before (mind you, as I only recently returned, I had to level from 1-80 in ‘catch-up’ mode, so this is also the first time I’ve had a chance to sit back and smell the roses). I’ve not skipped any quest so far, either. The nature of the story has meant even when I found the quest annoying or difficult (I will fully admit I didn’t like bird jousting that much), I plugged away at it because I wanted to help the Ancient in question.

I guess I don’t have a point to make, except that I’m really enjoying Mount Hyjal and can’t wait to go back and play through every quest in Vash’jir to read that storyline too. It may seem bland questing to some, but I’m finding it a really pleasant experience storywise. And the fact I’m used to it from LotRO obviously isn’t hurting at all!

The Fluff post

It’s a given that World of Warcraft is great for fluff content; pop culture references, silly holiday costumes and devices to throw at other players, things to do in down-time, etc.

I can dress my new dwarf shaman up as a pilgrim and turn other players into turkeys – now that’s what I call fluff!

But, if they’re so great with fluff, where’s the housing, the cosmetic clothing, the trophies? Why is it so easy to give us vanity pets (which are great and strangely addictive) and not the rest. Every time I get some new cool bit of clothing or mask at a holiday, I crave cosmetic armour. I want trophies like in Warhammer Online, medals I can pin to my armour. I want a better selection of titles and for achievement points to mean something. And I’d like housing so I could have housing items. I love all these things about the MMOs I’ve played in the past and that I currently play.

And WoW is so great at so much fun content, that I feel the lack there all the more. If I couldn’t see the full pilgrim armour, or the Day of the Dead gear.. I wouldn’t care about the cosmetics. Also, the moment you see it done well in one game, you kind of realise all games could probably do it.

If there was one fluff content area you could add to WoW from another game, what would it be? I think for me it’d be housing, and all that entails.

When anecdotes attack…

I know it’s no big surprise that World of Warcraft and MMOs in general can really provide a bond between people where there really wasn’t anything much else in common.

I wrote a while ago about my boss’ young son and his little written note asking me how to get off Teldrassil. And my boss said her coolness factor with her son had gone up a couple of notches for knowing someone who could answer his questions.

Steampunk Phoenix tattooA couple of weeks ago, I went to get a tattoo I’d had planned for a while. It was a mammoth 8-hr session of tattooing (and I still need to get the background put in!). The tattooist had mentioned he was into computer games, but it was only when his girlfriend showed up towards the end of the session and he casually mentioned that both she and I played World of Warcraft that the big gaming discussion took place. She was in her early 20s, I’m 40. She’s a very hip goth chick, and I’m just an all-round geek. And yet we both play on EU roleplay servers (not the same ones, but still) and managed to have a very long and animated conversation about the game, Cataclysm, healing and roleplay in MMOs. Considering this was after around 6h of tattooing, it really helped get me through the final stages.

And then we come to last week. Just before a meal with workmates I went round to my co-workers’ house (she lives much closer to work than me, and yes, we work in a 2-person library, so it’s just us most of the time). Her 18-yr-old son came down to get some food and mentioned something about the Shattering and World of Warcraft and I discovered he’s also a healing nut (though he plays a druid to my shaman) and he ended up abandoning his sick girlfriend for 45m to have a chat with me about WoW.

It’s funny only because all these incidents all happened so close together. Normally I go through life with my gamer friends on one side and my non-gamer friends on the other. And while the non-gamers may be pretty tolerant to my explanations of these games, I don’t often have moments of connection via MMOs. (I mentioned on a very old blog once that my colleagues in the big library all knew that I went to fight a Balrog every friday night in LotRO and frequently asked how it had gone, even if they had no idea what any of the words meant ;p).

Anyway, thought I’d share because it made me feel warm and fuzzy!