Saturday, August 25, 2007

LoTRO: Book Ten

Book Ten – The City of Kings is here in LoTRO. I haven’t had a chance to see all the changes yet. Most appealing to me is the new reputation system. WoW has done it already, but LoTRO’s take on it seems promising. As a Hobbit, I ran out to the Shire to start getting rep quests for the Mathom House. They changed the MH itself so it’s now a building that can be entered with the right amount of rep. I remember thinking what a waste of building space it was to have a building that large in the Shire that you couldn’t enter, so I’m looking forward to getting enough rep that I can see what’s in there. Rep quests also exist for groups of rangers, Men, Elves, Dwarves and a couple groups I’m sure I’m forgetting.

There was a lot of buzz on the Burglar forums about how horrible the Burglar changes would be. Turbine implemented a change to Counter Defense making it a percent debuff instead of a total nullification of the block and parry chances and also a change to decrease the power and effectiveness of different conjunctions. The Counter Defense changes didn’t make much difference that much that I could tell. The mobs usually take the debuff in such a way that they can’t block or parry anyway. With regard to the conjunctions, my kinship also ran the last chapter in Book Five last night (fighting a very tough boss) which involved alternating YYYYYY (a very large damage over time effect) and GGGBBB (massive heal, heal over time and near-total power restore for the whole group). It was a very long fight but he conjunctions made it a lot easier and we all lived. The text from the listed changes, however, states that the nerfs would apply to “high end” conjunctions. Perhaps our simple color patterns aren’t “high end” enough? That or the outcome of the changes wasn’t that pronounced.

And, sorry burglars, the swim speed bug has been fixed. No more speedy swim for you. :) It was fun while it lasted, but right is right and it was a bug. Thank GAWD I am no longer questing in Evendim. Given the travel times with normal swimming, if Turbine proposed putting in a catapult which would fire me to the other side of the lake but kill me in the process, I'd take it as long as I could rez where I landed.

Overall, I’m excited to see more of the changes, including the new zone of Annúminas, some of the legendary play changes in the Ettenmoors and, of course, chicken play.

In other news, while I am still enjoying LoTRO, I have reopened my WoW account. LoTRO leveling is slooooow and sometimes it's just nice to fire bomb stuff ala WoW rather than the more subdued combat option LoTRO has. I'm still in LoTRO, but I'll be working on my Ally hunter (and yes, he's a nelf) to see Outlands from the Ally side of things.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

LoTRO: Misc Stuffs

I’ve been having a lot of fun just goofing off on my Hobbit Burglar lately. I got him to 35 and passed his pony quest, so I’ve just been riding around and kicking the bejezus out of any mob that’s on my list of mobs for traits. I leveled so quickly as a Burglar that many of my traits are under-powered. I’ve been hunting mobs (mainly spiders, wolves, orcs and goblins) to get some better stats. How can this be fun? I make it my own little game. I’ve taken it as a chance to explore more. A couple of days ago, I killed spiders in Bindbole Woods (way north of Hobbiton). The day before yesterday, it was in Midgewater Marsh where I also decided to take down goblins. Yesterday, it was Ered Luin where it snowed much of the time. In addition to exploration, I try to come up with more creative ways to kill mobs. Trip one, trick and stun one and try to kill them both before the stuns wear off. I also PvP-dance around trying to fire off skills while moving. Problem is, in Ered Luin, most of the mobs die really quickly, so sometimes I’ll keep dancing around while I look for another target. Yes, it looks somewhat silly. Especially when I realize a lowbie has been following me asking for directions for several minutes while I’ve been going ape-s$#t beating up a level-8 spider.

In spite of my current in-game project (Stabbing Things in Exotic Locations), I have also managed to get close to level 37. I’m progressing in levels because I still do the occasional quest worth actual xp AND an in-game friend of mine is hell-bent on completing book 4 in his mid-thirties. I have a hard time saying no to friends that want to drag me off on their adventures so, of course, I went with him. It’s been a rough ride. Last night, I got to evasion-tank a level 42 elite (I’m level 36). The mob was bright red and didn’t like the gall of some silly Hobbit stabbing him in the ankles. Fortunately, we had a top-notch minstrel and a tank that saw the wee Hobbit running in circles, arms flailing, so I didn’t have to keep aggro that long. One of the frustrating things for me is getting the group to coordinate on conjunctions. Conjunctions* are new to most of the people I was grouped with so it took some effort just to pull off a GGGBBB let alone a nice named one like Chill of Bone (GYYYYB) or March of the Ents (GRRRRB) or some of the more complicated ones. Something we need to work on.

In other news, my kinship (not mine but the one I was in) imploded. The leader apparently decided that our mind-reading skills were inadequate to know that he was unhappy so he nuked the kinship and took down the website. I logged in yesterday to find myself without a kinship as did the rest of us. Fortunately, a few officers banded together, reformed the kinship and within ten minutes of logging in, I was back with my online family again. They’re really good peeps and it was amazing watching how quickly things got back to normal for us. There was a lot of encouragement from the other kinships on the server too.

During the course of things, we got to talking about how unfortunate it was that one person (the designated leader) could destroy the kinship without taking into account what the people in it wanted. It got me to thinking about the grouping (groups / fellowships as well as guilds / kinships) dynamics of most MMOs. Most will assume there is one person in charge and that they and only they get to promote / demote people. There is little room for democracy (i.e.: everyone voting on a leader) or some other dynamics. If a group of two people meets a group of three people all on the same quest, it would be nice if the two groups could merge together instead of disbanding one and waiting for and invite. The current system (absolute control of one person) probably cuts down on a lot of chatter and bickering that could otherwise ensue (“ok, folks, we’re now in hour seven of the loot rules debate, bathroom break for 15 minutes then we’ll deal with the light-hide conundrum …”), but it would be neat to see some more options possible.

* Conjunctions in LoTRO are events that can trigger deliberately (via burglar skills or a guardian skill) or they can also fire off at random. A color wheel will appear and each person can choose a color. So if you need a heal, you can click green (G). Direct damage is red (R). Damage over time is yellow (Y) and more power (think mana) is blue (B). While each person can select their own color, selecting a pattern of colors gets a more powerful result. GYYYYB (Chill of Bone), for example, will result in a heal over time for the whole group, a large damage-over-time effect on the target mob, power restoration and the target will have their movement and attack speed reduced. The blue player will also summon a ghost to fight for you.

Friday, August 10, 2007

LoTRO Journal: 8.8.2007

My Burglar hit 34 last night making him one level away from getting his pony. He’s been in Evendim for a bit now in addition to some Trollshaws and the North Downs. One interesting thing is that I’ve just about run out of non-group quests I can do. With the Evendim expansion, I had plenty to do on my Guardian and Hunter. Things are getting a little tight, however on my Burglar. I’m wondering if my approach, as a Burglar, to many quests is the issue. For most classes, one would need to fight into and out of a quest area to complete the objective. Since mobs give experience points, their xp contributes to the total xp for completing that quest. As a Burglar, I tend not to have to fight too much to get to my objective, I just sneak to it. I tend to ram through quests fairly quickly but with a low body-count and thus a low count of xp from killing mobs. Over time, I suspect the xp deficit adds up. My solution, in the short term is to dedicate some time grinding mobs to make up for the lost xp. Grinding is not a favorite activity of mine, however, combined with possible traits / titles and some burgled loot, I’m sure it will be bearable. I’m also in a new kinship so maybe completing some of those group quests is a possibility even though most of the people I know are over-leveled for them.

Though this is my third time in Evendim, I’m not tired of it (except for the travel distances – swimming across the giant lake in the middle of the map gets old fast). It’s familiar enough that I’m not lost all the time but still unfamiliar enough that I’m finding new things.

I also got invited by some upper-level kinship mates to go on one of their upper-level romps through an instance. Sadly, I’m not even sure what the place is called (for those in the know, it’s the instance with the blue lady and the giant turtle boss). Most of what I remember is how ineffective I was at level 33. I had fun running around with the crew but for all intents and purposes, they five-manned it with a short guy (me) that just kinda poked things with knives on occasion. Unlike many of the instances I’ve been in thus far, this instance didn’t seem to be that long. We were in there a couple hours tops and the people I was with seemed to know where they wanted to go.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Wrath of the Whatever

Zoso has an interesting post on MMO Musings about the Wrath of the Lich King expansion coming for the World of Warcraft. While I’d love to get psyched about it, I just can’t. It’s ten more levels of ten more levels and then we’re off to the same old content bottlenecks that got me out of WoW in the first place. Zoso’s post and a similar one in Melmoth’s Inferno pretty much sum up my emotions about many of the titles around today or due out in the future: meh. Being in what is now my third MMO (LotRO), I’m having a hard time getting handed the same old leveling crack in a shiny new wrapper and trying to act excited about it. Were LotRO in something besides Tolkien’s world of Middle-earth, I think I’d probably not be playing that either.

What we need is some kind of paradigm shift in the MMO genre. Why must MMOs all be level-based? I’m tired of leveling. I’m tired of NPCs that stand stock still to spew forth quests / dispense loot like some kind of anthropomorphic vending machines. I’m tired of running through a zone where I quested before and seeing that nothing has changed at all. “You mean to tell me that I killed all those damned wargs and you still have a warg problem? Did no one follow up on my hard work?”

We need new ways of implementing what Sid Meier defined as a good game: “… a series of interesting decisions.” I’d like to see worlds that, when I pass through a zone I’ve already been in it could still be different. The worlds need to change. As PvP objectives fall, the zone control changes. Or make it similar to Oblivion, events unfold which open the way for more events. Gates for the demon army open up. Demons could turn the area into an invasion zone. Close the gates and they go away (but can pop up somewhere else). Decisions about what to fight and where would lead to consequences. Ok, save the town by the stream to preserve the water-supply but the city in the center of your supply routes to the North could fall.

Quests could be worth credits (or gold or whatever) which would then be spent on armor / weapon upgrades thus relieving the need for the same quest NPC to hand out the same quest and there-by the same items. The available quests could change but the credit amounts for the area would be the same (IE: the warg problem we had has been resolved but now there’s all these dead wargs all over the place so here’s your shovel and corpse-handling gloves … ok, maybe something more fun, but you get the idea).

A world that was changing would also be a world worth exploring. Even a zone you have been to will be different when someone else is in charge of it. And if there were “hidden” facets to the world (secret entrances, areas that become accessible / inaccessible due to natural calamities / player actions, you could go past a place you’re seen before but which has changed significantly).

And while I'm in full-out babble mode, I’d like to see a crafting system which actually felt like a crafting system rather than an exercise in watching character animations.

I think I’ve ranted enough for one day. *pauses for cheering* Long story short, I think until MMOs get over the slump they’re in, LotRO will be the last for a while. I won’t be getting the WoW expansion or heading back there any time soon. I don't think the changes the industry needs will be easy but nothing worth doing is.

LoTRO Journal: 8.06.2007

Last week the friend of mine that originally got me into the Lord of the Rings Online informed me that he too was returning to the World of Warcraft. Thus it has come to pass that every single person I know that went to LoTRO from WoW has returned. His complaints about LoTRO as well as the complaints from my other friends that left all got me to thinking about what it is that WoW has the LoTRO doesn’t. It has been gnawing on me for some time as well. I have been enjoying my time in LoTRO and will not be returning to WoW since I’ve really done all I care to in the game. WoW is a great game, but the fun for me runs out quickly once I reach a level cap.

So what is it about LoTRO that is different? Most of the complaints I have heard thus far have to do with the level of refinement in LotRO verses WoW. WoW is a very polished game. At this point, most of the stuff in the game happens because that’s exactly what Blizz wants to happen. The look of things, the way a combat animation appears, what happens when character x interrupts ability y to do action z and so forth. LotRO has a number of things that, while not broken in an I’ll-quit-the-game-if-it’s-not-fixed way, are not right.

Take the number of stackable debuffs on guardians, for example. Animals can wound a guardian such that they cannot block, evade or parry blows. Blocking and parrying attacks open up reactionary attacks for a guardian. Remove those, and a guardian can only use a handful of low-damage attacks and auto-attacks. Add to that the relative expense of leveling a guardian and it has become an undesirable class for many people to play. My burglar can also get hit with all three debuffs but I really don’t care much since all my abilities would still be available, I’d just take more damage for a bit.

There are some map / image oddities. For example, last night I was swimming around in the lake in Evendim (with my burglar where there’s a bug that if you swim stealthed you actually move at running speed – yet another glitch). Near the fortress at the southern end of the lake, I noticed a giant seam down the middle of the lake. The waves on one side are moving out of synch with the waves on the other side. Some things seem out of place, like the large statue of a king on the Kingspan in Evendim. It took away from the epic feel of the place to see something I could make out of Lego blocks.

Mob placement issues abound. Using a mount is next to worthless in some areas due to the presence of stealth mobs that can unhorse you in a single hit. Too many of these mobs are actually on the roads. There’s another glitch with swarms of locusts following players out of the farm areas in Evendim and all over the map until the player kills them or the guards pick them off. Even then, there are ways into town without passing any guards, so there are random clumps of locusts in some spots or piles of dead ones lying around town.

Quests are inadequately or inconsistently labeled. I have easily soloed some quests labeled group quests and have needed a full group for others that I could supposedly do solo. The sheer number of group quests is a problem too. Many players want to create an level one character, so if they advance along with the rest of the server, they can do all the quests. New people or those that roll a lot of alts, such as myself, tend to have to abandon the group quests because there’s not enough people around to bother with them.

In summary, LotRO’s problems aren’t one huge, game-breaking thing. It’s more like a death of a thousand cuts. Each little problem or bug makes the game less fun and more frustrating to the point where people are walking away to more polished games like WoW. The good news is that LotRO is still young. WoW has been around for two-and-a-half years now. I believe it’s DAoC that has been around for ten? (Or maybe I’m thinking of Ultima Online?) There are still people playing Everquest one. LotRO is only a couple months old, post-beta. They will fix or change things for the better including the anomalies and content issues. Expansions are in the works. LotRO will improve.

The question is will Turbine manage to implement the fixes before they lose too many people? I suspect that the really trying time for LotRO will be when the Age of Conan and Warhammer Online come out. There are still a lot of WoW refugees in LotRO – people that got tired of WoW and may be willing to try anything new to find their next game to play. If the problems with LotRO persist, they may be tempted to make a permanent move to another game.

I have high hopes that LotRO will pull out of the problems and make as a great and as engaging a game as WoW or EQ or CoH. Time will tell.