Thursday, July 30, 2009

Give me fish now, and keep nasty runekeepers, er chips!

Games based on Tolkien's works always have to involve some additions to the lore, otherwise you may as well just read the book. Sometimes these additions are good, sometimes not so good. For the most part Turbine has handled its additions in a way that make them very credible extensions to the story. Here's an example. At this point in the game, the hobbits have all reached Rivendell, and Frodo has accepted the quest of the One Ring. From the Council of Elrond we know that Gollum has escaped captivity in Mirkwood and seemingly did so with the aid of servants of the Enemy. What's this have to do with you? Well, while wandering the Trollshaws in search of adventure you hear rumors of creature that has been raiding fishing nets and even tried to steal a baby from a house. So, with the help of a local hunter, you set a trap for the creature and wait. What follows is an entertaining chase with a challenging encounter at the end of it. A fun quest line, with a nice solo quest at the end, and the reward of interacting with Gollum.

Not all of Turbine's additions are great from a lore standpoint though. Runekeepers? Really, what were you thinking? They're a good class from a purely game mechanics point of view, and adding a second healing class was definitely helpful, but seriously, this isn't very faithful to Tolkien. Gandalf started a fire to keep from freezing to death and said that he just painted a bullseye on himself for anyone to see, and Runekeepers are throwing lightning bolts around like there's no tomorrow. How hasn't the Enemy found all of them and either recruited them or put them down? Granted, several of the classes in the game have some rather overt displays of power, but RKs are nothing but overt displays of power.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I hear Amon Sul is lovely this time of year.

I'm going to post some screenshots here every once in a while. In WoW the only screenshots I ever took were from boss kills. Middle-earth is much more photogenic. I have pics of me in front of Bag End (stupid Lobelia wouldn't move out of the way though) and the Prancing Pony. Here's one I took of Weathertop. I had just finished doing a fellowship quest with some pugs when I noticed there was an awesome view of Weathertop over my shoulder. There's some light rain, but the sun is peeking out through the clouds.

I'm glad everyone has decided to make the transition and join me in Middle-earth. I started playing back in January after Edge cleared all initial WotLK launch raid content within a few weeks of launch. I tried talking people into following me then, but not everyone was as burned out on WoW as me at that point. I was beginning to think inertia might keep things that way indefinitely, but wow was I surprised how fast the change came. Everyone seems to be enjoying things so far. Nord and LRNs are posting here again, so I'll take that as a good sign. My only concern is that some may be enjoying the change but when the newness wears off then it could go back to same old, same old. Hopefully that won't be the case though; Turbine has been doing a good job of actually adding new small group content with each patch and even (gasp!) revamping low level zones for a smoother leveling experience.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Spoiled by MERP

I've mentioned way back when this blog began that I tend to be a gamer who likes to have a little roleplaying sprinkled in with his hack-and-slash. Most of my WoW characters had their origins in D&D characters I played back in college or grad school.

As we make the switch to LOTRO, my stable of classic characters goes back even farther, all the way back to junior high when I bought my very first table-top roleplaying game: Middle Earth Role Play (i.e. MERP).

MERP was a watered down version of Iron Crown Enterprise's other flagship game title, Rolemaster. RM is less-than-affectionately known as "Chartmaster." It is among the most complex table top systems out there. However, with that complexity also comes flexibility. You could literally play just about anything in RM or in MERP.

As such, I'm finding a lot of my old toons just don't work in LOTRO.

For instance, Mechnar and Maeoden were two Rohirrim brothers. Half-brothers really. One (Maeoden) was your stereotypical blonde blue eyed horseman, what you'd expect from MERP. The other was a half-orc, the result of Maeoden's mother spending some time as prisoner of Saruman's orcs. I can do Maeoden easily enough (he's my captain in LOTRO), but not Mechnar.

That might be a bad example, seeing as you'd probably never have orcish toons in LOTRO of any kind. But there are others. I've got a Black Numenorean sea captain in my stable of toons, an Easterling, and probably a Haradrim if I look hard enough. None of these nations or homelands are as yet represented in LOTRO. They might be, once the map expands to include territory east of the River Anduin or south of Lorien. But given these "peoples" were typically allied with Sauron, I'm not holding my breath.

All MMOs (and most computer roleplayers in general) lack the flexibility for folks to make toons with this level of originality. But I miss it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Day One - Still tired from the move...

Well, our group has all successfully gotten onto LotRO, even our friend in Thailand. The downloader kept crapping out on him, but he's got it now. Now the fun begins.

The game is visually stunning and uniquly different looking from WoW. We're all enjoying the immersion into Middle-Earth. The sense that events of the Lord of the Rings are unfolding just outside of our vision is great. They did that well. When you play a Hobbit, the tutorial zone has you evading Ring Wraiths at the same time that Frodo is. Win!

The similarities to WoW (and other MMOs) in the UI, quests, and game mechanics are widespread and obvious. The worry here is that it'll feel too much like WoW. It doesn't. The similarities have freed me to enjoy the game while not being too confused about the basic mechanics. I understand basic things like organizing bags, following my map, and drop quests.

Basic fight mechanics are similar: Push buttons in sequence based on your attack options. Combat in LotRO feels, thus far, less hurried. That's a welcome change that I hope remains. WoW combat sometimes felt frantic as I waited to time the GCD & latency to maximize my dps.
Everyone has had a chance to make a few characters & complete the starting zone at least once. We've begun to talk about what roles/characters we plan to use on group activity nights. Just like other MMOs, instances require the trinity of tank, dps, healer. Classes like the Captain also appear to fill "support" roles in groups/fellowships.

I'll probably be our tank. I'm looking hard at the Warder & Guardian. I'll probably end up with 2 or 3 active toons for a while. One for the group, one for just me & the wife and one for pure solo. We'll see. I could never maintain that many active toons in WoW. Expect me to lower that to 1 or 2 after a few months.

More to come...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Heren Lokion

And so it begins...

Over the weekend, most of us were able to get onto Lord of the Rings Online & start doing starting zone quests. Soon, we formed our Kinship (that's LotRO talk for Guild.) The name chosen? Heren Lokion. According to people smarter than me (Amaeva & Nord) it's the Order of the Serpent. Althought, they also say it's more like people who pwn snakes (or dragons.) Fitting.

First impressions? That's all I really have. LotRO is both uniquely different & exactly the same as WoW. Longtime WoW players will recognize the basic UI framework and the general mechanics of the game. The initial combat pacing feels "slower" than WoW, but not in a bad way.
So, am I back into blogging about gaming? We'll see. The real topic I'm interested in is the state of our guild/kinship. The group has been playing WoW together for nearly 4 years & gaming together for over a decade (for some it's nearly 2 decades.) The dynamic of group gaming & how LotRO works for us will be my main focus. But, I'll also post about the game itself.

I'll try to get the others to post a bit about their experiences.

Friday, July 17, 2009

How I put the nail in the WoW coffin...

Since Wrath came out, my friends - like many WoW players - have expressed various degrees of disappointment with the difficulty level. We're not "hard core" players, nor are we purely casual. We want to log in and have a variety of experiences. As time marched on, all of us broke with 25-man raiding. We started spending more and more time just doing casual stuff together and less and less time Raiding with our guilds. Quests, instances, achievements & 10-mans were the name of the game and that game was losing it's fun.

Early this summer, we decided to switch to our horde toons in an effort to breath new life into our experience. We had abandoned the toons way back when Burning Crusade happened. Equipped with our under-geared level 60's & a pair of Death Knights, we began to run old instances. It was fun, but much easier than we remembered.

Then the beginning of the end.

Upon reaching 70, our Prot Pally, Destro-Warlock and I (on a hybrid Disc leveling priest) blew through Utgarde Keep. This was in crappy outland dungeon blues & greens. The next night, the 3 of us went over to Nexus. It was much more of a challenge for us, but we also defeated that instance. Heck, it felt like an actual accomplishment. We had fun! It felt like a Burning Crusade instance. We also felt sad. In order to achieve this effect, we had to be undermanned, undergeared and play toons that none of us had touched for 2 years.

Now in the 70-72 range, our group picked the lock to Kara. We obliterated it with 6 players. Again, undermanned, undergeared and on unfamiliar toons. Fun, but...sigh!

Finally, the nail in the coffin.

After doing Kara for a few weeks (and trying some bosses in AZ), we returned to Northrend and went after instances with mobs 3-5 levels higher than us. Azjol-Nerub...pathetic. Next came Drak'Tharon Keep. At one point, I - the healer - got so bored that I ran past the tank and used SW:P to aggro 4 packs of mobs back to our tank. Nobody died!

The idea that my level 72 Discipline Priest could intentionally aggro 4 packs of elite level 75-76 mobs to our under-level party and obliterate them was too much for us. What did we have to look forward to? Our Alliance toons had 10-man Ulduar (which was still mostly challenging.) Our Horde would quickly catch up. There was nothing else. Achievement grinding is all well and good, but where's the excitement? 5-man heroics...heroic, my ass!

I wrote a survey for the group asking various questions about our various needs from our online experience & how folks felt about WoW. The answers were all the same. We played MMO's to play together. We want to have fun, but we also want to be challenged. WoW was no longer doing that. The game had degraded into two types of encounters: Mindnumbingly easy or super-impossible hardmode. One friend put it best...

That the game now only seems to have two degrees of difficulty: "Bring your A game or don't come (and you'd better not have more than 400ms latency)" and "Go ahead and face roll your keyboard, we don't care, you win, have this completely useless item."

Why would we continue to play under those conditions? None of us needed the so-called hardcore gamer experience, but none of us want to face roll the keyboard either. We took the results of our little survey, did some research and plan to adopt Lord of the Rings Online as our new MMO home for now. We should all complete our transition by September.

Some of my friends have been with Warcraft since the original beta. My wife and I have been playing for nearly 4 years. There are been weeks & months where we did nothing else but sleep, work, wow. I understand making WoW accessible. I liked the concept. They went too damned far.