Tag Archives: LOTRO

Ratchet Up The Excitement!

No, this is not a post about SW:TOR. So far, I’ve been able to keep that particular affliction at bay despite the recent excitement surrounding pre-orders.

No, my hype-meter spiked today after seeing the new set of official screenshots for Rise of Isengard (I can’t seem to locate the official announcement, so I’ll just link to the CSTM post). And I have to say, I’m extremely impressed. I’ve always been a huge fan of LotRO‘s art style – in particular the racial architectures and outdoor environments (honestly, does anyone really like the character models?). But what really got me was this shot:

(click for full size)

I saw that at full size and literally said “Whoa!” (Keanu-style). If you haven’t already, take a look at the full-size version. Impressive, isn’t it?

As a photographer by training (though never by trade…how’s that for getting value from one’s education?), I can say the shot above is good, but nothing particularly impressive. Sure, the tower on the mountain is definitely intriguing and, as usual, the skybox lends significant impact to the environment. However, what it could indicate for the game is something entirely different. What got me the most excited was one detail, which I’m sincerely hoping I’m interpreting correctly. Here it is:

If I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing, those are people. A lot of people. This is the kind of settlement that I’ve always wished for in LotRO; I’m familiar enough with the lore to understand that many of the areas of Middle Earth through which we travel are supposed to be rather low in population. But I’ve always felt that too many of the areas seem downright sparse. Bree, for example, is appropriately sized for how I’d imagine it, but it never seems as if there are enough NPCs to account for the number of buildings.

The “camp” in that screenshot, however, is practically bursting with people. What that could mean about new technology behind the game, and it’s capabilities for presenting a “living world”, is very encouraging. Consider this – how many monsters do we see on screen at once, at most? One dozen? Maybe two? With those kinds of limits, how do you think Turbine will recreate something like the siege of Helm’s Deep? Or the battle at the Fields of Pelennor? With the Jackson films setting a high standard, it would be impossible for Turbine to recreate something even close. At which point we’d be left participating in sidelined skirmishes. Not exactly compelling.

Yes, I know they are just screenshots, and screenshots can be misleading. And even if they are accurate, there’s no promise that LotRO will suddenly be able to handle true crowds of NPCs and mobs. The proof will be in the seeing. But if they are representative of increased capacity, I think we’re seeing a nice incremental increase to what LotRO can deliver. We may never see a battle the size of Pelennor (which is more or less a needless desire, considering the only concern in a battle is likely what is immediately around you!), but it looks like we’re getting a step closer!

December may bring it’s requisite flurry of emotions and activity, but at this point, it’s September to which I am truly looking forward!

Conundrum

As Syp notes, things have been extraordinarily quiet in the ‘sphere of late. Obviously, I haven’t found much worth writing about recently and I try to keep from rambling, so that’s led to saying very little! As I’ve only been doing this “blogging thing” for a little over a year (on and off), I’m not sure if this is a natural lull that occurs annually, or if it’s just a symptom of the current “wait-and-see” situation we’re all in. With few recent or near-term releases, and several big titles just over the horizon, it feels like everyone is just holding their breath.

Not that I haven’t been playing games; my renewed enthusiasm for LotRO continues unabated and I’ve been delving into some older titles that have sat neglected in my Steam Library. However, I’ve let my subscription to RIFT run its course. At the point where I ran out of time, I hadn’t logged into the game in weeks, so even though I feel that I missed out on a good portion of the game (I was never able to hit the level cap, or even get out of Scarwood Reach), letting go wasn’t actually much of a loss. Not that I didn’t enjoy the game, and there is a lot about RIFT that I find fun and compelling, but it just couldn’t compete for my limited time.

In reality, for the last few months I’ve found myself in a bit of a tough spot when it comes to gaming; not only have Real Life and Work become increasingly dominant, but I’ve found that on one hand the time available for gaming has been coming in smaller and smaller chunks,  and on the other my staple games have become less satisfying.  Again, not that I’m not having fun, but I constantly find myself looking for something different.

(The last three months have also taught me that when one undertakes a gaming-related project, it (ironically) leaves very little time for actually playing games! Hopefully I’ll have something more tangible to show for all of it soon. As for a silver lining, I’ve become intimately familiar with Python. So I guess there’s that.)

With most of my free time coming in small doses, my primary activity in LotRO has been to grind out remaining deeds in the “low level” areas; it’s easy to step away for several minutes when one is standing in the midst of a field of Grays who pointedly ignore you. Until you walk up and stab them, at least. However, I’ve once again found myself playing single-player titles far more than anything else. I picked up Bioshock 2 for a song on Steam, and continue to chip away at Oblivion and Dungeon Siege III. But mostly I’ve been playing Left 4 Dead. Which, in my mind, is indicative of my ongoing conundrum.

I’ve found that I’m looking for something more long-term than a single-player experience; certainly that type of experience is more tailored to the individual, but there is a factor in MMOs that is hugely appealing. It’s the, shall we say, “permanence”, though I have trouble assigning the status of permanent to anything purely digital – I’ve worked in IT for too long and know how easily these things can go *poof*.  Or rather it’s the persistence of an MMO; the idea that the things we do last, even in the smallest ways, beyond our time in the game. Mostly I attribute it to the social connections; no one in Oblivion cares if I come, go, or die and never boot up the game ever again. Not so in an MMO in which we’ve invested thousands of hours. It’s almost inevitable, by design or by incident, that we will establish relationships with other people, and that has an effect beyond the game world, no matter how small.

Even if it’s only in the pursuit of Achievements, such as in Left 4 Dead, I’ve been looking for something greater than a moment-to-moment experience. But I’ve also been craving drop-in/drop-out, immediate-action gameplay, yet I need something which also allows for easy pauses, which MMOs don’t exactly provide.  So L4D is seems to be the best option at the moment – it’s easy to get in and get out, have some fun, it’s full of action, and I have goals beyond “Survive the next wave of undead”.

Still,  I’m craving something that just doesn’t exist:

  1. an online world,
  2. with Other People,
  3. that isn’t entirely focused around slaughter,
  4. where I can jump in and out with an hour to play (or less),
  5. and where it’s okay if I step away for a few minutes.
  6. (And make it compelling and deep, in visuals and story, please!)

It’s a tall order, I know. And one I’m not likely to see filled anytime soon. And I’m rambling, so let’s try to make a point here…

What would do it for me would be if LotRO was a little less themepark and a little more sandbox; deeper crafting, better housing systems (or better yet, player-made structures/towns à la SWG!), and more exploration that doesn’t involve leaving a trail of corpses like so many breadcrumbs. Something for me to do in the world that doesn’t involve killing Orcs, or necessitate several hours investment (also spent mostly killing Orcs).

But all of that is just wishful thinking. Until then, I’m stuck with bite-sized content and the occasional extended session with the kinship. Not a bad place to be, but not exactly what I feel I’d most enjoy.

‘Welcome Home’ Party

Been a slow couple of weeks for me on every front except work (seems like every time I find a minute to post, I realize it’s been over a week since the last update – for shame!). However, the Summer Festival in LotRO has prompted a return to regular gaming sessions, if for no other reason than to partake of the festivities. Not a whole lot new for this year’s festival, but I’ve always enjoyed the Dwarf and Hobbit races (very apropos), the new mount (obviously my first acquisition) is nice, and some of the cosmetic cloaks are particularly attractive.

A few nights ago, I found myself in a unique position – I had little work needing to be done as of “Yesterday“, and I was wide awake after everyone else had gone to sleep. Naturally I logged in for some quality game time. Now, even as recent as a couple of weeks ago, my destination would have been RIFT, but as I’d been checking in more regularly due to the Festival, I decided to drop in and reconnect with the kinship while I had some primetime availability.

Best decision I’ve made in a long time. I had such a great time that I logged in the next night. And last night. I can’t remember the last time I’ve logged into any game three nights in a row. It’s been so good that, at this point, I’m thinking of letting my subscription to RIFT lapse when it comes due for renewal.

In all the excitement of exploring a new world (and I haven’t even been past Scarwood Reach/Gloamwood) and delving the possibilities of new classes and mechanics, I’d almost forgotten how much of a difference a good social circle makes. My guild in RIFT is very helpful, and there are some great people there, but we are a fairly quiet group that tend towards “playing solo together”. Whether that’s the result of this particular guild, or due to the nature of RIFT itself is debatable (and for another post, I think).

That first night in LotRO, I happened to log in just as the group running Ost Dunhoth (or trying to run it!) was losing a member. I dropped in, and though we didn’t make it very far, it was a blast. Even getting trampled by oliphants multiple times was enjoyable as we all tried to get through the “gate puzzle” (I don’t know the name of the wing in which it’s found, but I think it’s the first challenge of Ost Dunhoth).

After a few attempts, and losing a few raid members to sleep/work/what-have-you, those of us left decided to run through Sammath Gul. Not entirely a challenge, as most of us had already been through it start to finish, but it’s a really fun run, and it let us relax and actually socialize instead of focusing solely on the task at hand. And socialize we did! I haven’t laughed as hard while gaming in probably a year or more! I’m all for the developers providing us with challenging content, but sometimes it’s valuable to just be able to play alongside friends; to share a fun experience that requires teamwork but doesn’t require absolute, laserbeam focus.

So after months of infrequent logins, I’ve come home to the game that has been a second home to me for years.  The whole experience has completely renewed my love of LotRO and re-fired my drive to get in and keep playing. Yet, oddly enough, what hasn’t returned was the feeling of grind that was so prevalent in everything I was doing before my hiatus. One might say, “Absence makes the heart blah blah blah”, but I think it has more to do with leaving behind the manic Completionist thinking. I was so focused on “The Endgame” and checking off every task on every list, for just my main, that I think forgot to simply have fun.

Hopefully we’ll have no more of that! I have no doubt that, at some point, I will find myself in the same position of being left with little to do but grind. But after taking some time off, I’ve got a nice chunk of content on which to “catch up”, and it’s likely that Isengard will drop before I’ve even gotten that far. That, and I think I’ve learned my lesson – when the burn of grind starts setting in, don’t try to power through it. Step back and remember the fun.

Thoughts for the Day

Gah! Seems like every time Real Life decides to get extraordinarily busy (as if I could post any less recently), the MMO industry decides to throw a party and get the ‘sphere all a-flutter.

Age of Conan

I blame Turbine, really. They made the switch twice – once for a failing game that pulled it back from the brink of closure into a realm of respectably-sized piles of gold coins, and once for a game that wasn’t failing because, well, we-can’t-just-leave-well-enough-alone-can-we-and-look-how-well-it-worked-for-that-other-one-we’ll-be-drowning-in-our-piles-of-money. The thing is, for however I feel about Turbine’s business decisions (take a wild guess), they got the F2P/hybrid model pretty much right. No matter how hard they toe the line between appropriate items in their Store and handicapping non-paying players, they have yet to really push into pay-to-win territory. I don’t like some of their decisions, but I also can’t point at any one item and say, “That’s just wrong.”

However, Unrated is not LotRO, and the model Funcom has chosen is just not good. It’s a sad rehash of Sony’s EQ2X, where the access tiers are just convoluted and too much of the game is walled off from the “freeloaders” (because that’s how you’re treating your potential customers, Funcom). If you look at the breakdown between Free and Premium accounts, it’s a little ridiculous. Two-thirds of the classes (and the most interesting ones at that!) are unavailable and great portions of the group content are walled away. And time-based passes to access dungeons? Really? Wow.

The thing about being Free to Play is that either you really go for it or you forget about it. Going halfway is really just nickel-and-diming your players, and we know it! As much as it pains me to say it sometimes, Turbine really has it right in the Cash Shop model – convenience items, cosmetics, and zones of side-quest content. That’s why the model works for LotRO – there’s always a central storyline to which everyone has access, from The Shire to Moria to Enedwaith. Age of Conan might have that, but I have to agree with Keen – going Free to Play doesn’t necessarily make AoC a game worth playing; I might check it out to get to the areas I never saw, but it’s certainly not worth putting money into. The restrictive model they’ve outlined only accomplishes two things – it alienates the players who might have considered paying for something, and it exploits the players who aren’t educated enough to know better. Neither is good business.

Burglar Changes

Orion posted a list of proposed changes to the Burglar and Warden classes yesterday. I won’t pretend to know enough about Wardens to comment. Burglar, on the other hand, is my one-and-only!

Overall, I like the changes. Here goes:

  • Removing some of our highest tier skills from the critical response chain certainly opens up some moment-to-moment options for us and will help with Power management as we don’t have to burn through a handful of other skills just to get to them.
  • Being able to toggle our “stances” (for lack of a better term) after defeat is HUGE. I understand not wanting Burglars to be able to flip back and forth during combat, but losing your stance after death in a group scenario is a major disadvantage. It means not burning Hide in Plain Sight just on the off chance that I might need it to get back into Mischief. So in reality this change frees up multiple skills, at least when playing in groups.
  • The consolidation for Seize Initiative and Escape Clause is nice, but not particularly thrilling. I don’t use either much. It’ll be nice to have another space on my hotbars, though!
  • Adding a 100% chance to Surprise Strike from stealth is a really nice change. Again, it’s more flexibility as I don’t have to save Aim up “just in case”.
  • Subtle Stab ticking off the cooldown timer for Mischievous Glee is great! It somehow “fits” in my mind with the tone of the class and the lore. I can just imagine my Burglar slipping through an Orc’s defenses, getting in a solid hit, and giggling the whole time! And it will greatly aid in survivability.

The last details – Riddle not breaking stealth and it working on all creatures – are the most jarring, and disappointing, changes proposed. I don’t PvMP much, but this could be a huge change to the battlefield in the Moors. More than anything, however, the proposed changes are just too drastic for an aspect of the class that I consider to be fundamental, both in how it plays and in how it fits into the lore. I’ve always thought that Turbine did a great job of building a familiar yet unique set of classes that fit well with the lore (every class being inspired by one of the key characters of the stories), and thought that they really hit the ball out of the park with the Burglar.

But making Riddle so much more…generic…just hurts. It’s a big stretch to the lore, which is important to me. And it robs us of the need to be more strategic in our solo and group play. Sure, many other players don’t understand or appreciate the Burglar, or see it’s usefulness in a group setting. But those that do understand all too well how much of a difference a good Burglar can make.I guess I understand Turbine’s motivation – making it more generally useful and desirable as a member of Fellowships – but it’s just not going in the right direction. If there is a need to expand the Crowd Control functions of the Burglar, at least find a way to do it that makes sense in the lore, instead of just stating “it works on everything now…have fun!”.

It’s almost entirely personal, but these last changes are, in my opinion, quite horrible. These kinds of changes reek of the WoW approach, where the developers start overreacting to a perceived deficiency (often perpetrated by the vocal minority) and don’t stay true to the theme, and vision, behind the design of a class. Then we end up with major overhauls every few months and every new expansion, and no one knows how to play their class or even cares to learn because “it’s just going to change in the next patch anyway”. There should be some aspects of every class that are sacrosanct, and for me the strategy involved in playing a Burglar is one of those.

It does say ‘Advanced Class’ when you create a Burglar. Leave it that way, please.

Free Server Transfers

The timing of the announcement was either sheer luck for Trion, or pure genius; either they stumbled into a pretty nice PR win or they’ve got people inside Blizzard feeding them info. Either way, I hope someone got paid a little extra. Kudos for that.

As a player, being able to move around for free is nice. I’ve been bitten by this before, and being charged anything, especially per character, stinks of a simple cash grab. If it’s meant to be a deterrent, just don’t allow them because otherwise it’s just insulting. I work with databases for a living, and I don’t care what anyone says – moving a set of rows from one database to another is a simple thing. If you can’t do that easily, then your system is designed VERY poorly. Legacy code is no excuse; how can you expect to run an ongoing service if your not willing to clean up your past mistakes?

And if you don’t think that Blizzard or Trion or Sony or whomever can’t pull up anything and everything about your characters, all in a few seconds, you are mistaken. What Trion has introduced is a completely automated system that costs them next to nothing and wins them huge points with their customers, especially in the context of what others charge.

I do agree with others, however, that it’s not entirely magnanimous nor is it as clear cut as the PR announcement. It’s not a free-for-all where anyone can go anywhere. This probably is a way to deal with population imbalances. But you know what? It’s FREE. And it shows that Trion values its customers by giving them the choice, well in advance of server merges, and it will continue to be an option. Every week. FOR FREE.

They’re not saints and its not driven by charity; I don’t expect them to be. But it’s a valuable service that they’re providing free of charge. So, overall, it’s a win for Trion.

That’s it for now!

Awfully Quiet

This post by Wolfshead pretty much sums up (nicely, as usual!) where I’ve found myself the last few weeks when it comes to MMOs. I’m just feeling a little…blah. Maybe “bored”, but that’s not really the word. Malaise? Ennui? Apathy? Maybe. I’m still playing (mostly RIFT), and I want to log in but not for the reasons I usually do.

Seems like a one week vacation has turned into a four week break from almost all gaming. I’m still logging in when I can, but I find that I’m feeling a lot less of the urge to find time for MMOs. RIFT still has the lion’s share of my MMO attention these days; I haven’t logged into LotRO for more than ten minutes in the last two weeks, which makes me kind of sad. There are people in there that I miss (no, not you, Gimli).

And I think the issue is as Wolfshead describes it – I’m a little tired of doing the same mundane tasks over and over again, just in a new locale, under the guise of some kind of grand Quest To Save The World. Just like the three people standing next to me at an NPC. Just like everyone else.

Honestly, what keeps me logging into RIFT, and keeps me out of LotRO, is the prospect of seeing new sights and finding new places to explore. Yes, I’m still doing quests in RIFT, but it’s more a matter of convenience than anything else. “Sure, I’m headed out that way anyway, and I know I’ll have to wade through at least ten orcs, so…yeah…I can help out!” The experience is a nice bonus, and since I’m poking my head into every corner, I figure I can do a few “favors” at the same time.

But the utter helplessness of all these “people” standing around their outposts and villages, doling out mundane tasks that they should be doing for themselves – it wears on me. Last night I ran a task for a Defiant NPC that involved walking twenty meters from the camp. Literally – TWENTY meters. I killed two low-level mobs before I could reach the device that would magically complete some other device, that I would then be able to use on a rift not 100 meters from the camp.

I mean, c’mon people. Let’s get motivated here. The Defiants are supposed to be “The Vigil Helps Those Who Help Themselves” types. I believe a little initiative is warranted!

So that’s where I find myself. A lot of single-player excursions into games where I can explore a world  (Oblivion, The Witcher, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.) and feel like I’m making a difference. Because that’s what I really feel the drive to do recently – explore. I want to see new spaces and discover all the secret little details; which is why RIFT has been so appealing while LotRO lingers unloved. But I don’t want to wade through shambling hordes of monsters and countless franchises of vending machine NPCs (McQuestGivers? Barter Kings?) to get there.

Ah, well. I’m still having fun, and that’s what really counts, right?

(Anyone know a good exploration-based, sandbox game out there? Doesn’t have to be an MMO…)

Winner Winner

Just screams "WINNER", doesn't it?

The issue of equal opportunity in the games I play (or “Return on Investment”) is one that I struggle with constantly; I agree with SynCaine that the Everybody Wins philosophy is a short-term cheat with seriously detrimental long-term implications.  If we don’t know how to lose, and lose graciously, not only are we are handicapping ourselves for the realities all around us, but we rob ourselves of any real value achieved in winning when we actually manage it. However, as an adult with a handful (admittedly small-ish) of actual responsibilities and limited free time, I feel the pull of maximized return on my effort. Time is, after all, the most precious of commodities; disposable cash I’ve got (somewhat), free time for gaming, not so much.

As the father of two young boys, the whole subject is very real for me – team sports are looming on the horizon. And while I want my boys to succeed, it’s more important to me that they learn the nature, and true value, of competition. It’s not about the winning or receiving praise and recognition. It’s about striving to be the best that you can. The outcome, win or lose, should be secondary, at best, to the real purpose at hand; winning should be the bonus, not the goal (or worse, the expectation). This is a lesson I very much want my kids to learn, and if they don’t take to it in team sports, well, there’s always activities that are more individual or less competitive. I’ve had a very recent, personal experience with this; an organization with whom I’ve worked and learned for several years has decided to elevate me to the “next level”. It was an extraordinary feeling, having years of work recognized by those you respect, and I want them to feel that same sense of pride. But they have to earn it.

However, the lessons of competition are never something I would expect them to learn from MMOs; at least, not any of the current crop that are finding mass appeal. Because Syn is right – WoW and its brethren don’t really encourage players to improve. Not in a competitive, “top of the heap” sense. For that I might (someday) point them to strategy games or shooters or…*gasp*… Real World team sports!

Case in Point

But there are lessons to be learned, even in the themeparks as they stand today. Lessons such as cooperation, teamwork, and courtesy to others (okay, maybe not in WoW); social skills like leadership, coordinating groups, and listening. I guess it really depends on what you seek going into these games. If you’re looking for skill-based, sink-or-swim game design maybe the themeparks aren’t for you. Which begs the question – why are you playing RIFT (or WoW, or LotRO, or whatever)?

I know my personal answer (story, story, STORY!). Which always leads me to my constant conundrum – paying the price to see the sights. I love a great challenge, but don’t have the availability to tackle the current design for “challenge” in MMOs (a.k.a. “the grind”). And while I wouldn’t want any game I play to go down the Path of Ultimate Accessibility a la WoW, I don’t really have the time to burn playing the truly challenging alternatives. My drive is always to experience the content – all of it – whether it’s in the form of stories/quests or simply exploration.

Like I said, I’ve got more disposable money than free time, which is convenient for the corporate “sponsors” of our favorite pastime! To whom do you think they’re going to cater – the competitive-but-nonetheless-niche-audience cyberathlete or the time-starved-wallet-heavy buttonmasher?

Sorry, Syn.

Hope They’re ‘Listening’

Wise words from a wise man.

Here’s to hoping that someone at Turbine’s read Syp’s piece and takes it to heart. Better yet, take it to the Board Room. The anniversary festival this year is a disaster; the only thing keeping me from calling it an ‘unmitigated disaster’ is that I just don’t care enough to get worked up over it. Everything about the entire situation reeks of the worst type of game design/customer relationship management, and nothing about the festival or its rewards is even slightly appealing enough to motivate me to care. And guess what happens when your paying customers stop caring about your entertainment product?

That’s right.

The thing is, I want to care. So very, very badly. With Isengard in sight and Rohan just over the next horizon (the fact that they even discussed mounted combat in a recent interview got my pulse up!), there are so many reasons for me to want to be invested in LotRO. In theory.

In reality, I’m just a little bit at a loss. LotRO is becoming “death by a thousand cuts” for me – one tiny (or not so tiny) decision at a time, it’s bleeding the fun out of it. And in the face of some extremely strong competition, both current and future, having a disenchanted player-base is not a situation in which I think any MMO company would want to find themselves.

Oh, we're going to Mordor, Turbine...like it or not.

I just want to see Mordor. I want to fight beside Gandalf at the siege of Gondor. I want to stand behind Aragorn and watch the Black Gates crumble. And I’ll get there, even if I have to carry Turbine and throw them into the fires myself.

I want to finish what I began four years ago; I knew it would be a long road and never did I expect that we would have arrived by now. But it was there, that final goal, whispering in the back of my head, on that first day I logged in. How could we not have wished for it, even back then?

But I feel like someone at Turbine knows all this, expects it from at least a portion of the players, and therefor thinks they can drag us through hell on  the way; because we’ll take it. Because they can.

Can they? Sometimes I wonder.