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 :-)

Dragon Age: Facebook

It was only a matter of time. In the run up to Dragon Age II, a new themed Facebook game called Dragon Age: Legends is being launched by Bioware. And you can sign up to the beta today. It’s going to introduce us to the region of the Free Marches, the primary setting for Dragon Age II. In the same vein as the web-based game that was released in the run up to Dragon Age: Origins, playing the game will give some unlocks for the main game when launched.

Dragon Age: Legends is only due to release one month before Dragon Age II, sometime in February 2011.

Screenshots, forums and a blog are linked to from the Dragon Age: Legends site, which is a little sparse so far, but one to watch.

[Funnily enough, Spinks and I were chatting about Dragon Age II the other day while both placing our pre-orders, and at the time we expressed how much we'd liked the web-based game (Dragon Age: Journeys I think was the name) and how we hoped they'd be another. Good timing, Bioware.]

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!)

My WoW Report

Boss: I told my son about you playing, what is it? World of Warcraft?

He said ‘I bet she’s like EIGHTY and EVERYTHING’, so I said ‘what level are you, Jack?’, and he said ‘12!’.

kizi1That is a legitimate exchange between my boss and myself while discussing whether I could have the week of Comic Con off work in 2011, on the off-chance I can sort myself out for going for a third year in a row. But it reminded me I have never really spoken about my return to WoW, a little intimidated by the number of WoW players amongst Spinks’ readership.

I left WoW just before Burning Crusade. I’d been playing since Friends & Family Alpha and was classically burned out on the game. I mostly played druids, in fact, it was a kind of joke that I’d played around 5 druids consecutively, bouncing between Alliance and Horde between various alphas, betas and the launch. This was at a time when druids were a little bit rubbish and although I played them to heal and because I loved all the hybrid goodness, I found things pretty tough. But mostly, I was burned out on the game and blamed it on the people, my last guild and the struggle of raiding Molten Core and how long it always took. So I left, and took a fair break from MMOs until I eventually landed on LotRO by way of the disastrous Vanguard launch month.

From that time on Spinks has still been playing WoW, and keeping me abreast of the changes. Some I was sceptical of, still harbouring some bitterness towards the game, but others sounded cool. Mostly, I never really felt a pull back to it, my account was gone and I didn’t want to start over from scratch even if I did go back. I’m pretty stubborn about things like that. So I ignored Burning Crusade and the launch of Lich King. I was pretty busy with LotRO also, and didn’t really have time for a second MMO.

But, last year sometime, in all the talks about Cataclysm, I thought it might be interesting to have another look, using the refer-a-friend scheme to play with Spinks. It wasn’t a completely successful first 3 months. While we enjoyed the added xp and summoning abilities, I kind of played one month on, one month off, so I didn’t get the full rewards for the r-a-f scheme. But it did get me to level 40-ish, which was over the hump of ‘how many freaking times have I done all these starter zones’. I picked a class I’d never liked previously, the shaman – and started to truly love it around level 30. Why a shaman? I was fairly sure I’d never want to play one in Cataclysm, I’d never managed to get one past level 5 before but with Spinks playing a hunter we could pretty much manage anything!

The dungeon finder really impressed, even when some of the PuGs created were rude, it was a nice break from grind if I needed it. Also, being on WoW meant I could catch up with my other sister who’d been chugging away soloing a rogue over there. Using realID meant that we could always tell when each others’ alts were on. And eventually I caught up to her level (I have more time on my hands!!). I had a really rough start to Lich King content and was really unhappy around level 70, but a few months ago I got to my first ever level 80 on WoW. And I adore shaman now, naturally – thinking of making another in Cataclysm. Yes, I have a problem remaking the same class over and over, I know this!

So Spinks has been trying to teach me about emblems, gearing up, heroics, tournament stuff and anything else I may need to do to be ready to raid. I tinker with it. I log on and do a dungeon or two, sometimes heroic, I head to Wintergrasp and I mine or muck around. While I’d quite like to see a raid, I’m not feeling really pressured to do so, and I think that’s been the real reason I’ve enjoyed my return to WoW so much. It feels quite peaceful to me without any pressure except to heal to a decent standard. Though I am considering switching to Spinks’ main server and possibly joining her guild there so I can explore the raiding side of the game.

I’m not the greatest player in WoW. I’m not trying to be, yet. But I’m no longer a snob about it either. It’s a great game, with the same grindy, rocky patches any MMO has. And sometimes it’s nice for me not to have to care and to just find a fun class and chill out with it.

Delayed F2P — LotRO Europe

LotRO Europe was supposed to go to Turbine’s Free to Play model on 10th September. It’s been delayed. And delayed again. We’ve had some welcome back weekend promotions, some free travel, some GM-run events, some community competitions, all to make up for it.

I’m sure it’s all appreciated. But… I’m disappointed.

Not really in the delay of the Free to Play model. I’m a lifetime subscriber and I honestly don’t care too much for the item store or the move. I do, however, want the new content of Enedwaith. I want to play with the Captain changes, I’d mentally got myself prepared for them and they’re still not here. I want the newly scaled instances of The Great Barrows, the Annuminas instances and Helegrod as a revamped raid experience. We prepared for them, we looked forward to them, we read about how everyone in the US is finding them, and now I’m starting to lose interest again.

Yes, that’s probably me being a fickle consumer. I’ve been playing LotRO since beta and bought in on the lifetime sub before launch even, I was so enthused about the game. But I’ve been milling around the endgame for what seems like forever. I have more medallions than I can spend, my gear is all there is (since there’s no real variation), and I’m only really logging on to provide a Capt body for kin raid efforts in Barad Guldur. I do have alts, I’m not the world’s greatest alt-er though and I simply don’t enjoy churning through content an additional time for no real reason. So I play a semi-static group with a set of friends as and when we can all be on together, but what I really really want is my Captain changes and the new content.

Codemasters have been patchy on information. In fact, they were pretty terrible at the start of the delay, but they have learned from this and now provide more regular, if just as un-informative, updates. Ok, we trust there’s a good reason they can’t tell us exact details. It’s obvious they don’t want to provide a guesstimate of when the update will hit, and funnily enough, I respect that. They don’t want to set themselves up for a big failure again with a fixed date. I suspect we may never entirely know why the delay has gone on this long.

The forums depress me. If anyone complains about the delay, they’re met with the ‘omg, how dare you complain’ crowd – the crux of their argument appears to be ‘we trust Codemasters, there MUST be a really good reason for the delay’. Everyone has a right to complain, it’s HOW some people complain that is an issue. No-one should resort to personal attacks, Codemasters’ employees are individually obviously not to blame. Of course, there’s any number of conspiracy theories that cover Codemasters caring more about other game releases, to Turbine wanting to take over European players as they did with DDO eventually – and probably some really wacky ones relating to the Illuminati. Who knows? But that’s what lack of information does to us in an age where we’re used to knowing things, and quickly.

I’m not fuming angry about the delay. It’s not like the new content brings all that much to me or to my friends – especially with no new levels. But, it’s diverting and would have kept me in LotRO for a while, instead of seeing me drift off to check out so many other games instead. I do find it hard to concentrate on my Captain… I was genuinely kind of excited about the changes to the class, and I feel their denial more sharply than the loss of anything else. But I feel I can’t complain on the official forums, I don’t even feel like complaining. I just feel that something is up, we’re not being told, we will get the update when we get it, but in the meantime, I’ll be drifting ever further away from LotRO and Codemasters.

Trick or Treat?

sweetsOver the past year, I’ve been running ‘sweet swaps’ for our LotRO kinship. It involves members of the kin giving me their real life details (name/address) and then me doing some shuffling to enable everyone to send and receive a goody bag. Think Secret Santa, but outside of Xmas.

In fact, it did actually start last Christmas with a secret Santa sweet swap. I told kin members the idea was to keep the entire thing to around £5 commitment, but to include mailing costs in that. We have members across Europe and Scandinavia and probably even further afield, but so far the swaps have been limited to Europe and Scandinavia. For the first time I tried very hard to match up every non-UK person with a UK sweet swap and the idea was always to try and find something unique to your area, if at all possible. I honestly can’t remember what I sent, but I do remember the ‘squee’ of joy when a bag of sweeties from the South of England arrived! A simple gesture, bringing happiness, and spread throughout those taking part – like a little club.

It was pretty successful, so we did a chocolate swap the following Easter. Following the same rules, but with a few more people trickling in and solely focused in on chocolate this time!

I meant to do a summer one, we had people requesting all manners of weird swaps (including my nemesis: Cheese!), but due to laziness and a kin meet-up, I’ve left it till now. Last year we followed the ‘Christian’ festival calendar, so this year we’re starting with Hallowe’en. While we may not celebrate it as much as America does, we still have cool sweets and chocolate to mark the date. Not sure everyone in the kin does, but hey, it’s also a way to spread cultural differences and note them. I think I may include some cinder toffee in the bag I send out also, and a note about Guy Fawkes.

I’d definitely recommend it to anyone interested in a fun little sideline for their guilds. It’s really not that hard, other than to gather addresses. I simply put names on paper and literally draw them from a bag. Though, we have an uneven number of participants this time, so (as Spinks might put it), I’m changing my algorithm and will create a ‘circle’ of giving where A gives to B gives to C gives to A, etc. Then I simply send everyone a forum mail with the name and address they’re sending to and a deadline date to get their sweets out.

Try it. For very little work, it gives a lot of pleasure. It’s probably my biggest contribution to the kin to date. But.. not sure what I’ll do after Hallowe’en, so all suggestions gratefully received!

[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?

It’s oh so quiet… on voicechat

We’ve had a little flare-up on our LotRO kin forums over the last week, relating to how much chatter we have on our Teamspeak server while raiding. We can be a talkative bunch, many of whom raid to hang out with more kinmates and get involved in some kind of joint activity. Because of that we don’t always come across as a highly disciplined fighting machine – but we get things done, we’ve been very successful in our raids and we keep a nice, friendly atmosphere going. So when one respected kin member posted something about the chatter spilling over into messy fights, it caused a pause to think.

Now, I admit (and the person who posted knows it), my first reaction was ‘hell, if I can’t chat, I’m not raiding’, but instead of posting anything on a forum, I just let the debate unfold. We will never agree on the perfect mix of pure focus vs chit-chat, that’s for sure. But it also reminded me of things we’ve discussed before – how many of our kin aren’t native English speakers, how different people like different levels of talking and of course, on how often we veer away from the matter of the raid and could possibly distract from some of the fights. It’s compounded because Barad Guldur (our current final raid) isn’t the most interesting, especially during some stages of trash mobs.

Being quiet isn’t what I’m used to. I’m pretty good at multi-tasking, I know my class really well and I can listen, understand, and react fairly well to things. But I needed the forum post and subsequent arguments to snap me back to reality. My playstyle is NOT everyone’s playstyle. And for me to enforce it on 11 others is worse than anyone asking me to be a little quieter during key fights. We have people who need to bring alts to the raids, we have non-English speakers, we have those who don’t raid as regularly as I do, and people who are just plain quieter (I know, SHOCK!!). Why is it worse? Because I’d be doing it knowing all the above.

It also reminded me that forums, while immensely useful, really do fall foul of the same misunderstandings as any form of written communication. I went through a gamut of feelings reading the thread – all the posts being written by people I consider friends and second-family, and I am so so happy I chose not to take part in the discussion. And we all turned up to raid last night, not embittered by the argument, but able to joke about it. And not snide jokes directed at the person who’d raised the issue, actual proper and respectful jokes. In that moment, I was really reminded why I like hanging out with my kin and what great people they all are. I even renamed my Hope Banner to ‘Quiet’ because the game wouldn’t let me have ‘Shhh’ – my first choice as a librarian, naturally.

As it happens, we also did our best yet at the Lieutenant of Barad Guldur, so maybe there’s something to this focus lark!

Free-to-Play Hardcore

As the countdown to LotRO going free-to-play starts, I’ve found myself pondering all sorts of random elements about games going free-to-play. Possibly the most bizarre of these, is the concept of hardcore and how it relates to the micro-payment structure.

Will the new hardcore be those who reach the level cap without paying a penny? I like the idea of this one, and I’d give it a go if I wasn’t already a lifer on LotRO – it’s a little like Ysharros’ non-quest quest, but with additional difficulty of not buying adventure packs.

I actually hope someone does give it a go, so we can cheerlead them along, in whatever game they choose to do it in.