I’ve been staying away from as much of the hype surrounding Star Wars: The Old Republic as possible.  I wrote a few posts here and there about some feature or other that I liked but kept myself out of the fray.  Like most dedicated MMO players out there, I’ve been burned too many times in the past in getting worked up about a game only to find it was unplayable, or not what I expected, or otherwise crap in digital form.

I spend a long time tootling around in LotRO and WoW‘s latest expansion (Cataclysm) and while the time was fun, I could think of nothing interesting to write about.  Grinding is grinding and while it can sometimes be enjoyable, it’s fairly unimaginative game play and doesn’t do much to inspire me to writing.

This past Christmas, I had some time off from work and, with no family commitments or other stuff in the way; I picked up a copy of the Old Republic and got playing it.

It’s wonderful!



Long post, I know, but hey – I haven’t posted in a while, so ….

Note – this post may contain spoilers below the fold. The stuff above the fold is either commonly known or analysis limited to commonly known aspects of the expansion

SoM went live on Tuesday and I managed to get in that night. The update process wasn’t too egregious – I think it took around an hour to get everything set up (maybe longer, I set it up and walked away).

Predictably, the Mirkwood intro area (there’s an introduction area before you can get into the real zone – it’s similar to the Archet intro) was pretty crowded. Respawns appear to have been set to cycle rapidly so when a mob I needed got killed, it wouldn’t be too long (sometimes mere seconds) before it was back in its pre-ordained standing position again. LotRO has a feature in place to reduce player perception of surroundings in the event of high server loads and that was in effect the whole time I was in Mirkwood.

Mirkwood itself is beautiful. It’s different from the Old Forest in Breeland and very well done in its own right. There are lots of topographical changes, which I love – rolling hills, jagged crags, dells and swampland, and the atmosphere is always dark and gloomy. Goblins and orcs patrol the surrounding hills and some even run down the roads looking for hapless travelers.

In addition to the Mirkwood area, I got a chance to try out the skirmish system. I love it! One thing I’m concerned about though is the instanced nature of the skirmishes. I remember my time in WAR: everyone was so busy grinding XP in battle grounds that there was little-to-no world PvP going on. It was rare indeed to come across another player and some of the other group activities at various level ranges (like the public quests and group quests) suffered a lot. Skirmishes seem to be great fun at the moment, but what about the old instances like Fornost? Will anyone be doing them if skirmishes are more XP efficient? I’m not sure. Judging by the number of players heading through Mirkwood, it doesn’t seem to be an issue and should allow more leveling opportunities for those not at the max level yet.

Thus far I’m having loads of fun.


Happy Labor Day!

Turbine has announced it’s upcoming Book 9 expansion: The Siege of Mirkwood.

For those, such as myself, that don’t care much for the Legendary Item system, it appears that there will be some improvements coming.  Other neat updates include henchmen, a level increase to 65 and more raids, normal group (6-player) and small (3-player) instances.

One thing I noticed is another 12-man raid.  Should be interesting to see whether or not they’re planning on enforcing gear gateing this time around and, if they are, how stringently.  Specifics are a bit light in the announcement, so I’ll be keeping an eye on their expansion site to see if they expand on any of their goals in coming weeks.

Still alive here.  Work has been crazy for a couple of months now.  Also, I’ve been trying my hand at writing some short stories – some fan fiction and some in my own world.  They all suck thus far, but if I get something worth posting, I just might stick it here.  🙂

On the gaming front, I’m still in LotRO.  There were some nice three-man instances added in the last book which my kinship mates and I have been enjoying.  My kinship has been doing a lot of turtle raiding (thus getting me a teal jacket and pants – both radiance items, thereby sparing me some of the radiance item instances which I’m not a fan of).

A friend of mine has been keeping me up to date on the upcoming Champions Online title coming out soon (you can pre-order at this point).  I’m not that into superhero games (though I did enjoy CoH back when I was playing it) so for now, I’ll sit this one out.  I’m still keeping an eye out for Star Wars: The Old Republic which is still a ways off.  Looks like they’ve got some new info about the Smuggler class.

And that’s what’s happening.

Happy gaming!

LotRO’s Book 14 free content update will go into effect tomorrow. The servers will be down from 6AM until 12PM Eastern for the updates.

You can follow the links from the LotRO forums to get the uTorrent info or other download options. I highly recommend the uTorrent – seems to work faster than the standard updater gizmo included in the game.

The full release notes are also available and include such tidbits as:

  1. A new area: Eregion where the ring-forges are located.
  2. Another epic book quest.
  3. Prelude quests to Moria!
  4. Upgrades to loot found in several dungeons.
  5. New character animations.
  6. Monster play changes.
  7. Crafting changes, class ability changes and a bunch of other stuff.

I cleaned up the Usual Suspects links a bit. I removed some old defunct ones and added Killed in a Smiling Accident where Zoso and Melmoth are holding court these days.

Tobolds had an interesting comment on this blog about gaming attitude.

The increasing acrimony [between casual players and hardcore raiders] is probably just an effect of burnout. MMORPGs are curious in that many people don’t stop playing when they stop having fun; instead they keep playing with a more and more negative attitude, complaining all the time on the official forums. And as Ontherocks remarks, the negativity is directed badly at other players. Not only casuals vs. hardcore, but also mages fighting warlocks, or other classes crying for somebody else to be nerfed. It is an illusion that you could have more fun if only fun was taken away from somebody else. World of Warcraft certainly has balancing problems, but these are more due to the impossibility of balancing classes in a way that they are equivalent but different in solo play, group play, and all the various forms of PvP.

I’ve noticed this before as well. I think a lot of the drama that exists between players (or entire guilds) is in large part because they’re not finding the game fun anymore. Everyone loves when a game is all new and shiny. You have no idea what’s going on – around every corner there are new surprises and adventures. Leveling brings new skills and ways to play your character such that even when asked to kill yet another ten boars, you’ll race off to do it because you can kill them in New! and Exciting! ways.

Then you hit a wall.

The wall could be the level cap, or a questing dead end or a game mechanic that changes your class so you’re not able to do the things you used to. That’s when you start trying to rationalize continuing. I suspect that the longer a player has played a given character, the harder that wall will hit and the less likely they are to start over. Most players will just try to struggle through it … and get pretty irate in the process.

LotRO is my third MMO (after City of Heroes and the World of Warcraft) so I’ve been there before. As a result, I have made some general observations in an attempt to maximize my fun and not have to deal with turning a video game into the worst-paying job I’ve ever had. These won’t work for everyone, but they have helped me to keep my head screwed on straight.

1) Try new locations. When I’m starting to get down about leveling a given toon, I’ll start looking for a new place to play in. The North Downs was getting pretty old for me, so I went over to Evendim for a bit. Sick of the Barrens? Try some of the higher-level stuff in Silverpine or the lower-level stuff in Stonetalon. Sometimes all you really need is a change of scenery. I’m an explorer by nature anyway, so looking around in a new area can be fun all by itself.

2) Try a respec. This doesn’t work all that well in LotRO as the specs (traits) aren’t all that pronounced at lower levels, but in a game like WoW, it can make a big difference. Even if someone else says your new spec is totally stupid, who cares? If it’s fun, it was worth it. I respecced my arms / fury warrior to fury / arms and that’s what kept my interest alive through to 70. Flailing away with two weapons and near infinite rage was a blast. When you change the way your character functions, you change the way you interact with the world and it basically changes the game for you.

3) Read the quest text. Too often, I’ve caught myself just ramming through content. Depending on the game, there could actually be a lot of interesting stuff going on behind the scenes. So you were asked to kill ten boars. Why? Why boars and not wolves? Is there some other objective involved? Reading the text tends to get me more personally involved in the story. I’m not someone out grinding boars for XP, I’m killing them to save the good people of wherever from the dreaded boar disease of somethingorother.

4) Establish “for me” time. It may seem odd in a video game to set aside time to do what you want to do, however, so much content is driven because the company is telling you to do something that sometimes it’s just nice to tear off and do something because you want to – even if there’s nothing in it for you other than to say you did it. In LotRO during Open Beta, we couldn’t go beyond level fifteen. One thing I really wanted to do is see Rivendell. To get to Rivendell, you need to pass through mobs that are level thirty-five or more. I went anyway and now it’s a regular thing for me. All my alts make the trek to Rivendell after the level fifteen class quest. Go places you’d like to see and see them. As a burglar, I’m constantly going places just to go. I was sneaking around Annuminas (a level fifty area) at level thirty-five. I sneaked my way out to the Council of the North base in Angmar around level forty-two. It’s fun to push the boundaries of what should be attainable and go places you want to go just because you want to.

5) Hang around / level with friends. One thing that I enjoy a lot is gaming with like-minded people. They can motivate you when you’re down and the company can help make dreary things fun. Killing 500 wargs gets old fast, unless you’re also chasing around your silly minstrel friend who doesn’t seem to realize she’s not a tank.

6) Know when to let go. If you’ve tried to make things fun and it’s just not working out, maybe it’s time to try something else. Even if it’s just for a little while. I know too many other players that will cling like grim death to a toon just because it’s their highest one. “My main is thirty-five so I really should focus on getting him to fifty before rolling another one.” Says who? I got my guardian in LotRO up to thirty-seven and decided I didn’t like it. So I created a hunter and got him to thirty-three and THEN created a burglar who became my first fifty. You can’t always tell right from the get-go what class / race combo you’ll really enjoy so don’t be afraid to experiment.

It also could be the game itself. For better or worse, LotRO is what it is. I find it fun and that the good outweighs the bad. I roll with an awesome kinship on a fun server. Not everyone is so lucky in their friends and not everyone will like the game. WoW is a great game, but when you’ve played all the classes and the races and seen what there is to see, that’s pretty much it. Many people are not fond of the PvP system they have or the raid-till-you-drop stuff at endgame. For many, level seventy equals done. I’m always a fan of trying new games – by all means keep looking to find one that’s fun for you.

And while I’m on the subject, video game companies should make accessible free trials available for their creations. I don’t mind chat restrictions to keep the spammers at bay, but make sure your trial is open enough that I can actually see everything in the game. My biggest gripe about my EQ2 trial was that I couldn’t get a house. Not a huge deal, but at the same time it would have been cool to see how a “house” in EQ2 worked. Even if it had limited furniture options, I could still mess around and see what kind of system it was. Got a game involving space ships? Let me fly one! Now! I don’t care if it disappears after I log off or it’s underpowered or whatever. Give users a taste of how cool your game can be and they’ll plunk their money down for subscriptions.

It’s also worth noting that players will likely have to let go of the games you’re playing at some point. Either because you’ve done all you’re interested in doing (like me in WoW), because the game becomes a hopeless grind (like CoH became for me) or because the game company says “that’s it folks, thanks for playing” and then closes it down.

7) Listen to what others say but listen to yourself first. It’s your money. It’s about to become the gaming company’s money. The only important question is: are you having fun? If you’re not having fun, then it’s not a game anymore. Following the advice above, you may find the fun again. If not, it’s time to let go: either of the class you started or of the game itself. There’s nothing wrong with playing a game and then deciding it’s not for you. There’s something fundamentally silly though about sticking with a game you started hating a long time ago.

Information about the Mines of Moria paid expansion for LotRO has been released.

From the site:

BIRMINGHAM, UK – March 14, 2008 – Turbine, Inc. and Codemasters Online today unveiled Volume II of The Lord of the Rings OnlineTM, the first retail expansion for the award-winning massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG). Announced in Birmingham, the childhood home of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings OnlineTM: Mines of MoriaTM will expand the online world of Middle-earth to let players explore the ancient underground cities of the dwarves, battle epic characters in the depths, face off with the Watcher, be a part of the fateful release of Durin’s Bane and more! The Lord of the Rings Online expects to open Volume II of its epic story in the fall of 2008 with an increased level cap, two new classes and the introduction of a unique item advancement system.

What with my blathering on about the outfit changes in The Lord of the Rings Online, it got me to thinking more about appearances in MMOs. One of the best appearance-related systems is that of City of Heroes. Right from the beginning, you can create a very distinctive appearance for your character. As you level up, you also end up getting the ability to change your appearance and get new outfits. The appearance changes in CoH have no impact on your character’s stats – it’s just what you look like.

In contrast, the World of Warcraft is fairly limited in the appearance modification department. Your character looks like your base model, which does have variations, plus whatever gear you are wearing. Two tauren warriors in full Imperial Plate armor will look practically identical.

A happy medium appears in the Lord of the Rings Online. At level 20, characters get appearance slots in addition to their standard armor slots. People can equip their toon and either show the equipment they have or opt to show whatever equipment their outfit is.

So what’s with all the appearance stuff and why is it important to players?

I think a main reason people like appearance systems is one of distinctness. My character is different from others and you can tell because I look different. My Dark Scrapper (CoH) or Hobbit Burglar (LotRO) doesn’t look like someone else even if they are the same class, race, etc. People like feeling different from the crowd, especially in games where they are supposed to be a hero doing great deeds. Aragorn, the ranger-to-be-king, didn’t look like Barliman Butterbur, the balding, portly bartender of the Prancing Pony. Heroes are distinct from the general population and the most obvious way to be distinct is appearance.

Another reason for liking appearance attributes is status. LotRO or WoW armor gained by raiding looks very different from other armor sets. You can tell from across the street that someone is wearing Rift armor. Rift armor can only be attained by going to the Rift in a raid and killing a boss that drops the barter gem for that particular piece. Right away, you can tell that the person wearing that armor is a raider and has been fighting through some difficult content. It’s the same in WoW. You can’t just purchase Ashkhandi (sp?), Destroyer of Worlds (a giant two-handed sword), you have to kill the boss that drops it. The only thing similar in CoH is the badge album through some badges give you access to neat trinkets like a freeze gun (the name and conditions of getting it escape me).

Role players in particular enjoy the ability to change ones appearance. As a sometime-role player, I like that I can be off fighting orcs while wearing full armor and do my farming crafting wearing something more appropriate (like coveralls). Farming while wearing my whole combat set seems odd. Are the pests after my crops really that tough? Same with hanging out in a tavern. I don’t wear the coveralls or the combat stuff, I tend to have my Hobbit dressed like a Hobbit going to a tavern. If you saw a SWAT operator wearing their full gear in a bar, you’d probably want to leave immediately so as not to get caught in the crossfire. You probably wouldn’t think he was just there for a drink or to chat with friends.

Another benefit of an appearance system is to create an established look – if you get a look you really like, why change it? A friend of mine has a thing where she always wears red armor. Red dye is expensive as is heavy armor (she plays a Champion in LotRO). With appearance being separate from the actual equipment, she can keep the armor look she has no matter what pieces she wins in other instances or quest lines in the future. Just because she gets new items doesn’t mean she has to change if she likes the stuff she has.

While appearances attributes in a game are merely cosmetic, they are all too often overlooked even though they can help create a better sense of attachment to a character and a sense of immersion in the world in which the character resides.

Book 12 is here, woo! The latest free expansion, Book 12 offers a number of changes in the game including clothing, housing items, Angmar changes, new quests and more. They started with Book 9: the Shores of Evendim. Then came Book 10 with its expansion of the epic books and some more questing areas. Book 11 brought us the new areas in the Trollshaws, housing and the Gollum quests along with Goblin Town. That’s a lot of updated content being churned out and I for one appreciate the expansions and the care with which Turbine releases them.

So what’s new in Book 12 and what do I think about it?

Clothing Changes
The first thing I did was check out the character tab. There are now, at level fifty, three tabs for appearance. The first tab is my equipped items tab – it’s the standard paper doll showing the items I have in my toon’s head, shoulder and other equipment slots. The second and third tabs are outfit tabs. To load an item into the outfit tab, simply drag an item for the into the appropriate slot on your paper doll. You will also need to select the radio-button to activate whichever outfit you want visible. Once you select an outfit to display, the items you have in your outfit paper doll will override any other items in those slots. It’s also worth noting that some outfits have overrides within them. One suit-looking chest piece I got as a rep reward from the Mathom House, for example, overrides gloves automatically as well as adding shoes. Items can be made visible / invisible by using little click-boxes next to those items.

I liked the variety of the clothing items available. New NPCs called “Outfitters” are available near where many of the other standard vendors are in major towns (Michel Delving, Bree, Rivendell, Celondim, Thorin’s Hall, etc). You can purchase a number of hauberks with different patterns and default colors. You can also get simple clothing items like coveralls for the farmers out there or a simple suit or robes, etc. All of the clothing items can be dyed to different colors if you wish as well as remove dyes with a dye wash available from suppliers in towns. (Note: dyes have become VERY expensive with the clothing changes.) Also available are backpacks: a day pack is available from most of the outfitters above and also a prospector’s backpack from the Michel Delving vendor. To get a quiver of arrows for your character find the Outfitter in Rivendell in the marketplace there or the one in Trestlebridge in the North Downs.

In addition to the standard, vendor-purchasable items, you should also swing by any areas where you have reputation points. There are a number of new clothing items (hauberks, suits, dresses, etc) available from the reputation factions. For example, there is a suit available from the Mathom House group (at Kindred, I believe). There are also a number of backpacks available – one from Thorin’s Hall and a couple from Breeland rep that I’ve seen thus far.

The new clothing options are very well done and I’m enjoying the changes. The outfit system hearkens back to my City of Heroes gaming days where you could modify your appearance separate from your stats. Nice work, Turbine!

To see pictures of the different clothing items, you can visit Vonabor’s guide on the subject.

Housing Changes
Housing changes were less pronounced than the clothing changes. You can now rotate free-standing items 360 degrees. I changed the position of my cushioned bench so it actually faces my fireplace. I’ll experiment some more with positioning in the future. Another nice feature is the ability to actually light / extinguish the fireplace and candle furniture items. You can click on the item, go through an animation and the object will light if it’s not lit or visa versa.

I haven’t seen any new furniture or furniture recipes yet. There is a Spring festival coming up and a continuation of a Pirate quest line in Western Breelands that may expand on the current offerings though. Of particular interest are the trophy items available from bosses. I don’t have a comprehensive list but there is a helm from Sambrog (sp?), a tentacle from Helcham (sp?), a banner from Ivar and a dress from the Red Maid in GA.

I can’t say I’m a fan of the boss trophies. The Sambrog’s helm is too small (but the smoking effect is cool). The banner from Ivar is a corpse on a stick (we have jokingly begun referring to it as “Corpsie” in our kin). Helcham’s tentacle is bizaar and the Red Maid’s dress is just … disturbing. I mean, we, the heroes of Middle-earth, defeated one of it’s evils and then, in a display of our righteousness … stripped her dead body? Eeeeww! Did we at least put a towel over her after we got the dress?

Tally thus far: cheers on clothing, /shrug on the housing stuff and a resounding ‘meh’ for the boss trophies.

One housing point of interest: when you buy a house all of your alts get a fast travel skill to your home. That’s a cool change – all of my alts can now enjoy the neighborhood discount.

Angmar Revamp
The map and quest structure in Angmar has been revised. I didn’t have much of a chance to go over the changes, however I did head over to Himbar in the North-East of the map and took a walking / sneaking tour between there and the camp in the far South-West. One point of interest: there are now horse paths from Himbar to the dwarf camp in the South and over to the South-West camp making the entire zone MUCH easier to get around in. The Himbar horse path is rep-related however requiring riders to at least be an acquaintance (the lowest rep level) of the Council of the North. The topography of the zone has changed somewhat and there is a new dwarf camp in the center of the map near Imlad Baratheon (sp?) above where all the wights and skeletons are walking around. Gone are the boars but still present are the stealthed wargs, drakes, neekerbreekers and other common mobs from the original. I’ll be spending some more time on this map in the near future.

Class Changes
My burglar got eleven new skills to the tune of two-plus gold. Ouch! One of the changes was a new burglar stance called Mischief which keeps the burglar from stealthing but significantly reduces the power cost of tricks. There are a couple of new abilities tied to this stance such as an aoe damage over time effect with a nice stun once the dot disappears. There’s also a new ability, similar to Touch and Go which, instead of increasing my evade abilities, adds damage when I get hit. I’ll have to do some playing around with the changes as my toolbar is now filled with icons that are unfamiliar to me.

Champions and Guardians also received an overhaul in the latest expansion. Initial reactions from friends of mine that play those classes have been favorable though training was also pricey for them.

Book 12 Epic Questline
Another installment of the Book quests! A group and I had a chance to go through this. There is a new feature in this set: insta-travel to where you need to be. Rather than having to trek all over the place to get to the place where you can start, you are teleported there in the regular game world so you can start fighting. The teleport changes vastly reduce travel time and are much appreciated! The quest line itself is also interesting including a screenshot-worthy finale for us RP / Lore nerds! I won’t spoil the details but the story which really got going in Book 9 is getting better and better. There are some very nice items available for completing the quest line including a neat teal cloak from Elrond at the end.

While the boss trophies are kind of a low point in the expansion, the rest was excellent. If Turbine follows it’s usual MO, there will be several non-expansion additions to the content they already added to this expansion (more clothes, more furniture, more trophies) before another expansion (which I believe is set to be a paid one).

Other Expansion Stuff:
In this expansion, Turbine apparently decided to update to the latest OpenAG dll [????] This is the dll file (or one of them) that affects in-game sound. Some folks were getting BSOD in Windows XP and had to do some odd things to their sound to get the game to work without crashing for certain sound cards. Well, they fixed it … and broke the sound for my card. I was in Helegrond and ended up getting three blue screens before I decided that it was enough for one night. Situations where I got the blue screen were times when I was grouped with other people and there were a lot of in-game sound and animations occurring at once. I was also in Vent during the crashes. The solution, on my PC anyway, was to enter the game and change the sound settings to all generic instead of using the FXI sound card which was the default. I haven’t crashed since and, at least to my undiscerning ears, the sounds were about the same. I also switched the driver for my Vent settings to be on the safe side.

Another change I haven’t looked at much is a new instance in the PvMP zone. You can check out more information about it at the Book 12 site, however, I haven’t been there and really can’t comment on it much.

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