Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Euro Lotro not free to play. Now I feel Foolish

It now appears that the rumour about European Lotro getting a never ending extension was no more than a rumour. Welcome back week ended last night.

Now there are several threads on the forum asking "But wasn't welcome back week supposed to last...?"

No official word on the issue from Codemasters or its CMs but that doesn't excuse me for having jumped on an unfounded rumour and spreading it further.  I am just going to hide under a rock for a bit and pretend it never happened. Ok?

Ask a busy man

There is an old saying:"If you want a job done ask a busy man". I have just realised that the same principle applies, at least in my case, to mmo playing. My real life work is very seasonal and after a quiet Summer I am now up to my neck in work with long irregular days. Despite this I am spending lots of time in with Lotro. After a long hard day I find a couple of hours in Middle Earth is the perfect de-stressing tool. My playing hours can be irregular, sometimes early morning, sometimes late at night. This mitigates against organised group play but nevertheless I have made great progress on my epic books with the line help of kinmates. Only the last bit of chapter 9 to do and I am up to date. I even managed to join a few radiance gear instance runs. I enjoyed these but I remain convinced that radiance gear gated raids are a step too far for me.

Doing dungeon runs with experienced players has given me an opportunity to think again about the differences between group play and solo play. Although I consider myself a thoughtful  solo player I am still a group play noob. Material for another post I think.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

European Lotro is Free to Play from Today! - Perhaps Not

BIG EDIT: Despite my post below it now seems that  welcome back week has indeed ended. Now I am red faced. It seems I may be guilty of spreading misinformation.



You may have heard hat the European launch of Free to Play (f2p)  Lotro was delayed days before the promised launch date of 10th September and we are still waiting for a confirmed date. Commentators have pointed out the missed opportunity here and have pointed out that many Europeans who would like to try Lotro may go to the current free US servers instead.

Well I just discovered that you can actually play Lotro for free with Codemasters in Europe already. This post explains it all but the gist is that returning ex subscribers can avail of a free "welcome back" deal which allows them to play for free until f2p launches while totally new players can use the free trial and they too will be able to keep playing for free until f2p launches. The welcome back package also includes accelerated XP and free horse travel for all players.

It's a pretty good arrangement actually and someone staring on the European servers today will have access to more stuff than someone starting a brand new free account on the US servers. The only problem is that Codemasters aren't telling anybody about it. The official Lotro Europe website doesn't explain it and only people who trawl Codemasters forums are likely to find out about it. Codemasters seriously need to overhaul their marketing department because this is not the first time they have had a special offer and not told anyone about it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Rules of the Club of Manhood

The rules of the club of manhood are for the most part unwritten but there are one or two that deserve to be explicitly recorded and a new one has just come to my attention:

If you just happen to be a handsome young man who just happens to be getting married to a beautiful young lady and if you also just happen to be a talented musician then DO NOT give in to the temptation to write your beloved a haunting ballad expressing your undying love. DO NOT play said ballad at your wedding. DO NOT record it on you tube. DO NOT distribute mp3's to all of your friends and acquaintances.

THINK before you do any of the above things of your fellow man. THINK of the vast bulk of us who's musical ambition stretches no further than to learn to play the radio.  THINK of the way our wives, girlfriends significant others will latch on to this song and play it over an over with far away looks in their eyes. Think man, FOR GOD SAKE THINK of the scornful glances they will then cast at us, their own untalented lumps of manhood.

Do not imagine for one moment that writing the song in French excuses your crime against mankind. In fact it makes it far far worse. Even schoolboy French is sufficient to decipher words like "amour" and "eternelle", while those untranslated passages crooned so powerfully in your manly voice serve only to increase the sense of mystery and romance in the eyes of our beguiled partners.

I am just saying. OK?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lotro Difficulty Speedbump: The Hall of Mirrors

Volume II book 7 was entirely solo as were the first few chapters of book 8 so it was quite a surprise when book 8 chapter 3 A Relic in Lumul-Nar turned out to be a very challenging 3 man instance. My Champion Throg was lucky enough to get the help of another champion and a minstrel from our kin but we were quite unprepared for the difficulty level of the instance, which I later discovered is called "The Hall of Mirrors". After many wipes and much consultation we did eventually overcome the first boss which required positional tanking and carefully timed corruption removal but it was getting very late so we didn't manage to complete the instance. You can read a fairly good walkthrough of the instance here. The key to the first boss is keeping two buffing matron wargs apart and preventing them from healing by removing a 10s corruption (buff).  For reference we had our minstrel kite one matron while two champions beat on the other and that eventually worked.

These kind of tricks are more common in 6 man content than in 3 man. Indeed tough 3 man content is all the more challenging because you are unlikely to have all of the classes you would like and you need to figure out a way to make do with the three players you have got. I am looking forward to giving it another go but it may be a while before I can get a suitable group.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Lure of Completion

I love finishing things. In single player games there is generally a final boss to be overcome and no matter how cheesy the closing cut-scene I find I can walk away with a warm glow knowing that I have completed the game.

Mmorpgs are unfinished by design. There is no end of game. Nevertheless a certain completionist satisfaction can still be had from finished various subgoals of which there are many. Complete a certain quest arc, complete a certain reputation grind, complete a certain armour set, complete a certain deed or collection.

Completing things was pretty much the theme of my weekend in Lotro. On Friday night I had the help of a kinship group to complete the quests in Volume II book 6. In this book the hard pressed dwarven expeditionary forcein Moria were forced to ask for Eleven help to suppress the evil that has taken over the once great dwarven stronghold. With considerable effort on Throg's part the elves of Lothlorien agreed to help not because of any love of dwarves but because they realise that the evil has to be countered and they hope to find out what happened to the great wizard Gandalf (Mithrandir in the Elven tongue) following his battle with the Balrog Durin's Bane.

Vol II book 7 was easy enough to complete solo and with the aid of a combined force of elves and dwarves we managed to capture Mazog the vile leader of the Moria orcs. The screenshot below is from book 8 but it is the same Mazog trying to escape.



Finishing book six also earned Throg the legendary skill Deathstorm. This sparked another bit of completionism as Throg now lacks only one legendary skill. The final legendary requires kindred reputation with the Iron Guards of Moria and given my feeling about grind it isn't surprising that I put this off for so long. Neverthesless I made a determined effort to get the rep required over the weekend. Thankfully Turbine have included a number of ways to earn reputation. Perhaps the most efficient are a couple of solo dungeons in Hadubab (Durins way) which give a hefty chunk of rep but can only be run once a day. Some quests also give reputation so I got a further boost from a quest arc in the East of Durin's way involving a Morroval Queen who has nefarious plans for the corpse of Durin's Bane. Although the quests didn't give as much rep as I hoped I did get a few rep item drops which helped me on my way. As an added bonus killing all those morrovals helped completed a deed which raised my innocence virtue to the cap of 10. Score another point for completeness. I draw the line at killing random mobs in the hope of getting rep drops however so I didn't actually complete the rep grind yet. I am prepared to wait a few days more running the dungeons when they are available for the final few points.

The final legendary I seek by the way is called Continuous Blood Rage. Its a kind of Berzerker mode which makes a Champion virtually unstoppable and ramps up damage over time but has a very high morale (health) cost and makes you virtually unhealable. Everything I have read suggests it is a suicide skill that I will probably never use but hey,  completeness is its own reward.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

I know where all those funny names come from.

When writers go looking for suitable fantasy sounding names for their characters one of the most reliable sources is to borrow phrases from the Celtic languages: Welsh, Breton, Irish and Scot's Gaelic. Although I speak English as my main language I did learn Gaelic in school so I am always interested to look out for Celtic influences in my fantasy games and novels. This evening playing Lord of the rings I came across a character in volume 3 book who has been thrown out of her tribe and is called Gun Ain which she explains means "without a name". I immediately recognised the Gaelic phrase "gan ainm" gan being without and ainm meaning name.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

I don't really do grind

Wikipedia defines grind as "the process of engaging in repetitive and/or non-entertaining gameplay in order to gain access to other features within the game". I don't really do grind. When Painkiller asked me to repeat all of the levels on a harder difficulty setting just to unlock a bonus ending I declined. As far as I am concerned I have finished the game. I don't really do grind.

Its not that grinding is always a bad thing. Think of knitting, think of fishing. Many hobbies of older times worked on similar principles. There is something relaxing about doing the same familiar task over and over in the knowledge that the repetition will eventually add up to a longed for reward. Indeed it could that in today's "I want it now" world grinding in games is a welcome return to delayed gratification and may even be good for the soul. Nevertheless I don't fish and I don't knit and in gaming I don't do grind.

That puts me at something of a disadvantage when it come to mmorpgs because the whole business model requires that players will repeat the same limited amount of content over and over in order to achieve in game rewards. If you aren't prepared to do the grind then you aren't allowed to have the shiny. I am not immune to the lure of shiny rewards. Every time I play an mmorpg I eventually find myself slipping into grind mode,  repeating some repetitive action over and over in pursuit of a reward but my innate dislike of grinding usually rebels and more often than not I end up leaving the game before my grind is finished.

Returning to Lotro recently after an absence of almost a year I reckoned I would be immune to grind because I am so far behind the rest of my kin that there is no point trying to catch up. They are all off raiding radiance gated dungeons whereas I don't even meet the requirements for the dungeon before the dungeon before last. I do miss the fun of challenging group content but with a gap so large why bother.

Except that Turbine have thought of that. Realising that radiance gated progression was creating an impenetrable barrier to new players they introduced a range of new ways to get it. Mirkwood has several three and six man dungeons that allow you to bypass the Moria radiance grind. The forthcoming free to play expansion is re-scaling some older dungeons and the new rewards will include radiance armour. Thinking about this my mind starts to wander. If I start running these new instances repeatedly (and do the complementary skirmish runs which are also necessary) I will eventually be able to catch up and once again I will be able to raid with my kin.

STOP!

Time for a reality check. I don't do grind. If I set out to run those dungeons repeatedly just so I can gear up for further raiding then in all likelihood I will abandon the game a bored couple of weeks later.

There is a bright side however. These new dungeons runs are likely to be very popular when they come out and they have NO RADIANCE GATING. Therefore I won't be excluded from joining them. Rather than seeing them as a means to an end, a necessary grind in order to access end game raiding why not enjoy them for what they are? Challenging group content that I won't be excluded from. It isn't really grind if you are doing it because you enjoy the content.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Dol Guldur


Sauron's fortress of Dol Guldur dominates the skyline of Eastern Mirkwood. It is from here that the evil one sends his forces to attack the Elves of Lothlorien. Now the tree dwellers are fighting back and the army of the Malledhrim is massing in Thangulhad to assault Sauron's vile stronghold. The dwarven champion Throg is pleased to note that for once the Elves have set aside their usual tactics of trying to defeat orcs by singing to trees and picking berries in favour of more traditional means of assault using iron and fire and large rocks.  He is particularly gratified to see that they have called on the support of dwarven siege engineers who are no doubt responsible for the impressive looking catapults you see in the picture. 

Dol Guldur is currently the "End Game" of Lotro. Home to the hardest bosses living in the toughest instances with the most onerous entry requirements. When I first caught sight of the place I was impressed both by the massive forbidding fortress itself and the bustling Elven war camp in its shadow. I decided to go up for a closer look, not expecting to get very far with my lone level 64 dwarf. Surprisingly I managed to walk all the way into the fortress and right up to all of the end game instances. There were plenty of high level orcs around but no bunches so it was easy to tackle them one at a time. I only saw two elites on the whole journey and both were easily avoided. I walked on past the warg pens, past the dungeon, past the sword hall, past Sammath Gul past all of the end game instances of Lotro right up to the final Raid instance of Barad Guldur. In fact here is Throg smiling for a photo in front of the first two Mobs in the raid instance:

The fact that a lone player, not yet maximum level can casually saunter up to the hardest dungeons in the game shows just how much the design philosophy of Lotro has changed since first release. The dungeons themselves are still tough group encounters but every where outside the dungeons is soloable. Contrast this with the original Lotro: a defining feature of Shadows of Angmar was that large parts of the world were effectively off limits to solo players. Regions like Dol Dinen, Carn Dum and Barad Gularan were populated with dangerous groups of elite mobs that effectively made them no go areas for solo players. The journey out to the Rift of Nurz Ghashu raid instance was so treacherous that even raid groups tried to avoid it by porting in players if at all possible. How times have changed.