Category Archives: Lord of the Rings Online

The Joys of Limitation

We live in times of endless choices. I just noticed again very acutely when I went shopping for some new furniture. For example, I want to get a new wardrobe, because my current one had never been all that great since I got it: It was a second-hand one that had been stored in a garage for too long during humid weather, and never fit together 100%. But I was fresh out of university, and it still looked good and I got it for free, so I didn’t care too much about the state of equine’s molars. Now that I move again, though, I decided I’ll leave it behind and get a new one.

IKEA has a nice and highly modular wardrobe system called Pax. The opportunities! But now I had to decide: Do I want a longer clothes rail and fewer shelves, or the other way round? Oh look, I can split just the lower part of the rail area: full length for coats, half-length (with some drawers below) for shirts. And they have shoe storage too? And 4 kinds of drawers and about 27 combinations frames and doors? But which should I take?!

The bottom line is, I’m still without a wardrobe. (I haven’t yet made my peace with it, to not leave the obvious pun unsaid.) The last couple of months made me make lots of, sometimes quite far-reaching, decisions. I feel like I’m thoroughly exhausted on decision-making for the time being. I just want a nice wardrobe, but not spend days on designing it. On the other hand, now that I know that there’s so much choice, I can’t just take a predesigned one, because I know I have the possibility to improve on that. So I’m stuck in decision limbo.

Choice is not always good.

For the same reason, it took me almost 3 weeks to decide which Internet provider to take. I tried asking around at the workplace for experience with providers in this area, and as a result, I’m still waiting on “real” Internet and currently use a mobile connection for my Internet needs. Which works… ok, I guess. Better than I had feared, but it comes with limitations. Which means there’s less choice in what I can do. For example, I’d rather not stream videos, because of the monthly volume limit. For the same reasons, I don’t dare to update too many online games.

This has an unexpected beneficial side effect. When I first realized that I had leisure time again, I was a bit out of practice and couldn’t come up with something to do with all that free time. The worst part was that I had to decide which of the many games available I should play. I have a large Steam library, and about a dozen MMOs I could choose from. But having a somewhat strict monthly limit, I realized I couldn’t really afford to update lots of games, let alone download new ones. So I had a look at which games needed no updating, and picked one of those.

Minstrel back in action!

Minstrel back in action!

Which is just a very roundabout way of saying that I spent some time in LotRO again for the first time in… maybe a year or two? I dusted off my Minstrel, and got going.

I’m actually surprised how little data MMOs (or at least LotRO) exchange with their servers. It seems as if the other background traffic of a mail program, browsers, etc. uses more volume than the game does, to the point where I can easily stay below 200-300MB a night.

LotRO is nice for some other reasons. It is a very relaxed game. At least the way I play it, I spend a lot of time just traveling through the world (which is still one of the best in any MMO I’ve seen), with some laid-back tab-target fighting without any strict timing requirements (which is important, because I often have about 300ms lag). It’s great! It’s almost like a meditation exercise. Except that this meditation exercise got me upwards of 30 levels, from before Moria into early Rohan. Who can say that about their yoga exercises? All you get from those are slipped discs.

There is one more reason that LotRO works well over the mobile connection. At some point, I did have to update the game because a small content patch had come out. If you ever played the game, you know that their updater is one of the worst in the business, because it’s excruciatingly slow. I’ve now proven by demonstration what I always suspected, that your line speed indeed has little influence on the time it takes to update: it works almost as fast over a somewhat slow mobile connection as it worked over my 3MB/s+ DSL. So relatively speaking, it’s going faster! (Well, in Bizarro world, which I like to visit every now and then when I come up with weird comparisons, thanks for asking!)

So even though Sid Meier supposedly said that good games are a series of interesting decisions, sometimes a game can be good even if (or maybe because) its decisions are very low-key and, at face value uninteresting.

Maybe in another 10 levels, I’ll have recovered from my decision paralysis enough to order that wardrobe, after all.

MMO Ennui

It’s that time again.  I come home after work, eye the icons on my desktop (I don’t use my desktop for pretty much anything, but I do keep my game shortcuts there), and just sit there staring at them. I had a pretty good run recently, played a bunch of LotRO, EQ2 and EVE. However, the last couple of days, none of the games could really captivate me.

LotRO was the first to fall off. During the time I didn’t write, I pushed my Hobbit Warden the last couple of levels to the level cap. However, I never really got to the point where I enjoyed Rohan. Too on-rails, too grindy, too… I don’t know. I guess part of it is that there’s nothing at the level cap I really want to do. I’ve exclusively soloed to the top, and as such, I never collected any experience with grouping mechanisms. Wardens will be expected to tank in groups. I don’t think I want to dive straight into that cold water. So all there is to do is grind dailies (blech) or level an alt.

EQ2 had the best run of the three. After hitting level cap on my Swashbuckler late last year, I started an alt Illusionist who, after my general MMO hiatus in spring,  is sitting at 85 at the moment (long-lost post about him in my post queue). I’m somehow missing the motivation for the final push to 90, though. From there I should be able to get groups and waltz my way to 95 and 320 AA easily (or at least that is the hope). I switched guilds from a US-based to a Euro-based guild, but it for the most part stopped raiding around the time I joined, which led to reduced attendance in the guild overall. Nobody really quit, but people just play less, and there are still not a lot of people on to play with. I basically switched from one guild with low attendance due to time zone issues to another guild with low attendance due to other issues. I probably should try and find a larger and more active guild, but I always feel like I’m abandoning people when I leave a guild, even if I’ve only been there a short time and not really contributed much.

EVE is the most recent one I picked up again. At the moment, I’m sitting in my private corp again, population status: 1. I’ve been flying around a bit, doing some missions, but that’s really not something that can keep my interest going. EVE missions are quite repetitive and get boring fast. I’ve been thinking about re-applying to the Uni, but being a Uni member comes with some restrictions I’m not sure I’d want to carry right now (especially when it comes to where you are allowed to go and such). Plus, the Uni is specifically designed to be a transitory corp. Newbies join, and most leave after some time when they learned some ropes. As much as I liked the Uni, this transitory nature made it hard for me to completely feel at home. I’m slow in my socializing, so it sucked when people tended to leave about the time I felt I slowly started to get to know them. I’m still a bit scared about WH and Null, so I’m a little bit scared of finding a corp in one of those areas. Plus, I don’t have a lick of an idea how to go about finding a corp in EVE in the first place. It seems to be all about alliances, but you don’t apply to alliances, you apply to a corp that’s part of an alliance, and I don’t think I could name more than 5 corps without looking them up. And while those 5 would probably interesting places to be, and I’d gladly accept an invitation from them, they are also (highlighted by the fact that an EVE noob like me knows them) famous enough that they wouldn’t accept me. You know the saying with clubs and exclusivity…

At the moment, I’m also lying in wait for FFXIV. I’m having high hopes; on the other hand, I know that I’m almost certainly setting myself up for a disappointment. I don’t even know much about the game, just what I saw over the course of a bunch of beta weekend hours. I think I’m projecting my hope for a good community and lots of socializing and grouping onto a game that’s still mostly a clean slate.

Long story short, just like Syp, who seems to be at a point where he feels like he needs to restructure things, I also have to reconsider what I want. Looking at what I wrote, a common denominator seems to be that I want more social interactions in my MMOs. Soloing MMOs can get boring, surprise! I guess I’ll have to do some thinking and figure out what I want and how to go about it. Suggestions are welcome.

Error 201

With Rohan finally released, I felt the itch to try out LotRO again. Nevermind I hadn’t even preordered the Rohan expansion. My highest level character, Hiltibrant, the Hobbit warden, is still where I left him months ago, at the 21st Hall in Moria. Realistically speaking, I won’t even reach the newly released content this year.

Nevertheless, LotRO is one of the games I always come back to. And I was interested to see what else had changed in the UI, at lower levels, and so on. So I fired up the patcher and let it run. And run. And run.

And run.

After two hours or so in the background, I got somewhat suspicious. It was still stuck at “Checking game data”, and it didn’t seem to do much of anything, except grab a lot of CPU power without any noticeable progress whatsoever. A bit of searching around found lots of wildly implausible theories as to the reasons, one remotely probable solution, and no official comments by Turbine. Oh well.

I learned that the patcher had a tendency to get stuck on the main asset files, and that one solution was to figure out which one it was (thankfully denoted by an additional “.jrnl” file pointing to the culprit), and moving it out of the way to see whether it would help. It did. The patcher went through and greeted me with the login screen. I was happy. So happy that I went and deleted the removed file. (Because, hey! problem fixed! Big rookie mistake.)

Until I actually tried to start the game proper, when I found out that solution had been… well, less than optimal:

Oh well, that’s helpful.

Thankfully, that error had an official page on the Turbine support site.

Not so thankfully, it described the problem, but no solution. “One of your data files is missing.” No shit, Sherlock. I learned the hard way that the patcher doesn’t seem to recognize missing files, that there is no “recheck everything” option, and that I couldn’t find a way to redownload that missing file via the patcher. In short, I was hosed.

So this morning, before I went to work, I decided that there was a painful, but probably effective solution to the problem. I started redownloading the full installer. It crawls and doesn’t use my full line rate, but it should still be done by tonight.

Oh look, it already got the Rohan skin! (Plus some weird graphic glitches.)

The new design of the downloader makes me hope that I won’t have to patch for another 6 hours after installation to get it to a current state. We’ll see.

In the meantime, there’s other games that beckon.

What I’m not playing: LotRO

One of the games that I always tend to go back to is Lord of the Ring Online. When it came out, it featured some of the most beautiful scenery even seen in an MMO. Even today, the style has a very enchanting charm. The textures might be more blurry than we’re used to, the mountains might have more hard edges, and all those things that improve over the year with more memory and computing power. But it is still a very convincingly-made world (The Shire is one of my favorite zones in any MMO ever), and like no other, it invites me to just travel around for the sake of traveling.

Plus, it’s Tolkien. Can’t argue against that.

The mechanics are a bit more of a mixed bag. Many people complain that the controls feels sluggish, and combat is slow. I never had problems with the sluggishness, but maybe that’s because of the class I played. I started in earnest, after dabbling around a bit, with a warden. Warden’s don’t have many skills that require cast times. In fact, they don’t have all that many skills to start with. Instead, they use three basic skills (“spear”, “shield”, and “fist”) in certain combinations, called gambits, and then release said gambits for special effects that work like special abilities do for other classes. It’s a pretty responsive system, for the most part, and it doesn’t require you to use too many keys at the same time.

It does require you, though, to remember what combination has what effect. I call it the “Tekken” effect. It’s not too bad though; you unlock new gambits slowly, one after the other, while leveling, so you have time to learn them. Also, there is a certain tendency that gambits that start with spear are DPS-focused, shields are defense-focused, and fist are threat-focused, which helps with memorizing. I was happily fighting my way up to the higher levels, and was in Moria at the time Turbine decided the class needed an overhaul.

Oh my. For starters, they strengthened the “stances” concept. Up to then, stances were just self-buffs to improve your DPS or tanking. These days, they also change the effects of your gambits. Also, they added a new stance that made all your spear attacks work as javelin attacks, to allow the warden to do some ranged damage. In effect, you end up with about 3 times as many abilities to memorize. So, as an example: “The Boot” (spear, shield) is an interrupt that also does some damage. It also has a stun component in “Recklessness” (melee DPS) stance, and roots the target in “Assailment” (ranged DPS) stance, in which the ability also changes name to the awkwardly clumsy “ranged boot”. Ranged boot? Oh, and in “Determination” (tanking) stance, it doesn’t add any form of crowd control, but instead adds a DoT. “Boar’s Rush” (spear, fist, spear, fist) also is a damage + CC ability, but in this case, melee DPS and tanking get the crowd control, while you get a DoT in ranged DPS stance. You still with me? If you need a handy reference chart, here you go:

You probably all had the feeling at some point in time: you return to a game, have a bewildered look at your ability bar, and realize that you have no idea how to play this class any more. And that even happens without sweeping changes while you were gone. When the changes went live, I logged in, bought my new abilities like the mentioned “ranged boot”, tried to figure out how to play, realized I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, and logged off. I decided I could always come back later to invest the couple of hours to get up to speed again. Only that never happened. I stopped playing because I felt the class had changed so much that it wasn’t the same any more. That doesn’t even mean that is actually the case: all those changes in one update just made me feel out of touch.


So, there you have it. Three games I don’t play, each for another reason. Incidentally, none of them are really about the core of the game. In one case, it’s the company’s business behavior (EQ2); in the other, parts of the fan base (GW2); and in the third, massive class changes made me lose track.

Which of those three will I play within the next year? I think LotRO has the best chances. I still love the game, and once I feel the itch to return, I’ll probably try and figure out how to play my warden again. It looks like the next expansion won’t bring any massive changes to wardens, so I could start anytime now without the fear that all will be obsolete again in two months.

And with that, I guess I can return to posts about games that I do play.

Picture Post: Khazad-dûm, at last!

Last time around, we saw Hiltibrant exploring Goblin-town. Before and after that, I’ve been busy. I progressed through the epic quest line, tried to kill the king of Angmar, but failed miserably.

Aragorn wasn’t too devastated though, and I continued, until I hit the taxi books (Volume 1, Books 9 and 10), which can be summarized as follows: “Dear adventurer, after your great deeds here in Angmar, we decided only the most prestigious and important tasks should be handled by you personally. That’s why I’ll send you to Bree, the Lone-Lands, and Esteldín, to fetch some information. And when you get back, I’ll send you to Evendim, where you’ll have to transport despatches between Tinnudir and Annúminas roughly seventeen hundred times, with a short trip to Rivendell for good measure.” At that point, I made a rude gesture to all those smelly Rangers behind their backs and decided it was time to go to Moria.

But first things first. I had heard that you can’t ride horses or ponies in Moria. Luckily, I had invested some time into killing evil dwarves, which made the dwarves of Thorin’s Hall so happy that they graciously allowed me to buy one of their riding goats… for a hefty price, of course. Damn those greedy dwarves. To be honest, the goat looks a bit strange, especially when you have to look at its weirdly wobbling behind for hours. *ahem* But it’s functional, so I won’t complain.

As I said before, I love the world Turbine designed for LotRO. Or rather, the world was already there, but the way they made it looks for the game. So I decided to get used to the goat, and to not use any fast travel skills. Instead I rode all the way from Thorin’s Hall, through Ered Luin, the Shire, Bree-Land, the Lone Lands, the Trollshaws, and Eregion, to the gates of Moria. I made a lot of screenshots to show the beautiful landscape, even though the weather wasn’t the best with mostly overcast and some rain. Since there are a lot of pictures after this point, I’ll hide them behind the cut.
Continue reading Picture Post: Khazad-dûm, at last!

An Example of a Good Dungeon

A short one this time:

You might want to click this to see anything.

I complained about how dungeons got boring. Now that I returned to LotRO (at least for the time being), I found a great antithesis to the bad design patterns I saw in WoW dungeons. Let me introduce: Goblin-town.

The dungeon is split into 10 small zones, with different design patterns. While the (incomplete) map to the right gives an idea of the expansiveness of the dungeon, it fails (like all LotRO maps) to convey its massive vertical size. The main area, divided into three subzones, is basically a long, dark, flight of halls, but crisscrossed by two additional upper levels of paths meandering along the cave walls and outcrops, with bridges and stairs connecting them. Most of the peripheral subzones make even more use of vertical design; some are deep enough to fall to your death if you’re taking a wrong step on a bridge (and you can fall VERY deep in LotRO before you die, I’d say at least 5 to 6 floors). Sadly, I tried and tired, but I couldn’t manage to get good screenshots to show off the vast, but still claustrophobic feel of this place.

The subzones, and the different halls of the main areas, are interconnected by tunnels that branch off, meet again, have numerous dead ends, and you wonder how the goblins ever made it out of this maze successfully. I got lost several times. At level, it was a classic dungeon crawl. I could spend hours inside there, and actually did, simply exploring and killing Goblins. It took me three evenings to reach the lowest areas.

In one word, Goblin-town is amazing.

Oh, and there’s cave paintings:

This one looks more like a prehistoric painting...

...while this reminds me of modern art.

And somewhere deep down inside, of course, there’s Gollum’s cave. In fact, Bilbo asks you to find it and map out how to get there.

After much back and forth, I found it in the end. And of course, I had to pose for eternity:

Preciousssss! *ahem*

I decided to recall out of the cave. I think getting out without a map would’ve cost me another hour or two. If I ever get another character into the right level range, I sure know where to go.

If a Horse is Already the Carrot, What Then is a Carrot?

Quite an unusual color for a carrot.

Recently, this blog has been markedly un-MMOish. First I played Oblivion, then Mass Effect. Then I went of vacation, then there was Christmas, then I played mass Effect 2. I really enjoyed those games, and I realized what I missed from many MMOs. However, recently, my MMO itch has come back. I’ve been killing a lot of rats in LotRO this week (the rats in question in this case being dwarves, but evil dwarves, so that’s fine, and the killing also increased my reputation with the not-so evil dwarves, although, as a hobbit I must say their beer is quite queer, but that doesn’t qualify as outright evil).

So I logged back in earlier this week (for the first time in more than 6 weeks) and realized that the Christmas event, or “Yule” how it is called in LotRO, is still going. That at first was a letdown for me. I’m not a big fan of events in MMOs that mirror real-life events with a weak tacked-on in-game explanation. I did notice though that for the most part, the celebrations were delightfully void of Christmas shenanigans, so I went and tried out a few. Then I realized that there was, like with all those events in all MMOs, many rewards. One of them was a pony.

I think I still prefer the Mathom Society's pony.

I don’t know why; I don’t even think the pony is all that beautiful. Yes, it’s nice, with its grey fur and white/blue tack, but I think I really prefer my Mathom pony. But still, I decided that this carrot should be mine, or maybe I just realized that the stick was sufficiently short, and I would be able to afford the pony after two or three nights of Yule dailies. So off I went, collected marks, did the race (is this really any more than a formality? It seems I could still earn my racing mark riding on my asthmatic grandmother’s back), and paid the usual 200 silver.

Anyway, the plan for the near future is clear: now that I got the one Yule pony, I have to decide whether I also want to get the second one that is available. I’ll also work on Thorin’s Hall reputation. That has two advantages: I don’t need a subscription if I just go in circles killing dwarves and don’t do quest. I also can prepare for Moria, because I heard the goat you get instead of a horse or pony at kindred reputation is also usable inside Moria. I’d hate to have to walk in there. After that, I can collect the remaining pages for my Warden’s legendary traits. And by that time, I’ll be close to 50, and can go to Eregion and Moria.

Looking at that checklist, it seems like I might be back in MMO business for the time being.

Things you do not realize until you try them out: floating names

This post has been in my backlog as draft for months, for no apparent reason other than that I forgot about it. LotRO players will notice how old the screenshots are, but the message they convey hasn’t changed.

Let’s play a game:

Where's the enemy?

Floating names: they are everywhere. They are one of these things that you just accept as god-given these days. Very few MMOs deviate from this UI decision; one example that comes to mind is DDO.

There's the enemy!

However, they change your perception of the world. Instead of riding through plains, or walking through a forest, scouting for whatever you’re searching, you can see everything with one look. You tend to not notice the scenery any more, or the mobs themselves; what you see is a target, and a beeline in your mind to said target. Run, kill, loot, run, kill, loot.

Same goes for the mini map: I tend to stare a lot at it in some games, to the detriment of enjoying the scenery. So I sometimes remove it from my screen (if possible), especially if it gives quest hints of where to go. You can’t see it in this LotRO screenshot, but I play EQ2 without the mini map, and it’s great.

I really enjoy the fact that without floating names, I have to watch out for enemies, especially in such dark areas as the Old Wood. I was surprised by the profound effect. It’s a great and simple tool to immersion.

My First Legendary (also: My Second Legendary)

As you can see on the picture I posted yesterday, I was already level 45. When I hit that level, I stopped what I was doing (it came at a time when I was only fooling around anyway) and went to Rivendell to start the book 2 quest line. That one starts with helping out the members of the fellowship getting ready for their journey. All I had to do was run around in Rivendell a bit; the most noteworthy event was bringing back a scepter that Pippin had mistaken for a walking stick and then left behind. After that, the fellowship said farewell, and got going.

A few kind words before Frodo leaves.

Hobbits! ... Oh well, there they go.

You follow them with enough distance to make sure you will never run into them. When you arrive at Moria, you run into a dwarven expedition that wants to enter the old city, but mysteriously, the door is blocked by a lot of rubble. You’ll find out later on that the attack by the monster in the lake, which the fellowship narrowly escaped, left that rubble as a result. After helping out a bit, the dwarves thank you by grabbing something out of their mathom-chest. For a warden, that ends up being a javelin.

My first legendary weapon!

Just as the dwarves want to enter, the lake beast strikes again. The expedition retreats, and you are sent off to level that new weapon, so you’ll be ready to fight the monster. Yep, LotRO  has item levels, quite literally. You get experience, and you level your item, which gives you points that you can invest into boosts.

Anyway, the first 10 levels went pretty fast, it was a matter of maybe 2 hours, at my leisurely pace. After that, I reforged the item (every 10 levels, your legendary item gets a new boost stat), and back I went to Durin’s gate. The lake monster was embarrassingly easy; the dwarves might as well have let me fight it right away, before all these leveling shenanigans. Nevermind, though. Defeating the lake monster made the dwarves so happy that they grabbed into their mathom-chest once more, so I also ended up with a legendary spear.

My second legendary weapon! I wonder how long it will take until the novelty of that concept wears off... probably when I get the first replacement.

This is probably a lot more helpful, seeing how I use the javelin to pull only, so it’s more of a glorified stat stick. I think I’ll go for DPS increases on my spear. I wonder whether that will be noticeable. I’m still not sure how much impact the weapon DPS has on your overall damage in this game.

Trollshaws, the most dangerous area in Middle-Earth

I claim that I have a fairly good orientation and map-understanding in real life. With a map of an area at hand, I rarely got lost; without, I generally at least make it back the way I came. Not that this matters much any more in the days of GPS everywhere.

LotRO’s  maps are not very detailed, though. Nevertheless, with a bit of trial and error, I generally get from A to B in reasonably short time. In fact, traveling is one of the things I thoroughly enjoy in that game. I often take my pony and travel manually, instead of relying on stable masters.

I said “I generally get from A to B in reasonably short time”. Generally. It doesn’t work that well in the Trollshaws. I’ve traveled there quite a bit now (my Warden is 45… I should make an update post on that soon), but eastern Trollshaws is still terra incognita to me. I can make it from the ford to Rivendell without too many issues, maybe taking a wrong turn once or twice. On the other hand, I just can’t manage to descend the mountain on my way back. I’m not sure I’ve ever made it without issues. In fact, most of the time, I take a wrong turn somewhere, run into a dead-end, and can’t find my way back. I then run in circles until I inevitably plunge to my death.

I've gotten used to that message.

I don’t know what it is about that area, but I don’t think I’ve only fallen to my death once anywhere else. In Trollshaws? It’s probably a dozen by now. At least the respawn point is at ground level.

Not that I’m complaining. I could just take the fast travel and be done. I like the exploring though. And one day, I’ll make it down that mountain from Rivendell, all the way to the ford, without as much as a sprained ankle, and that day I will laugh at that stupid mountain, and shout, “I finally beat you! How does that feel like?”.


Of course, the time after that, I’ll fall to my death yet again, just for taunting the mountain. But it will have been worth it.