What is it with LOTRO and alts?

The grass is always greener in The Shire

The other day, Syp over at Bio Break wrote a blog post about what he’s calling S.O.S., or Start Over Syndrome. I like this term a lot better than “altaholism,” which seemed funnier before I knew people who struggled with actual alcoholism. Can we, as an MMO subculture, switch to this term? Thanks. 

Anyway, it’s funny because I’ve been feeling the same urge in the same game lately. I feel guilty that my highest level character is currently outleveling Mirkwood, and yet I’m also mixing in leveling old content on my 50ish Burglar and 25ish Guardian. 

This made me think, what is it about this game that drives me, and Syp too apparently, to make so many alts? Of all the MMOs I’ve sunk a lot of time into, this is probably the one with the most content I haven’t seen, the slowest progression, and the most linear story path (though that’s changing a little). Logically, I am actively disincentivized to make alts in this game. 

I can’t speak for my esteemed colleague, but I think, for me, the above arguments against alting are some of what pushes me to make alts. I know that there is a ton of story content in this game, and I want to experience it with a character I really like. I know it’s going to take me years to get a character to endgame at the pace at which I move through this game, even if I focus on just one, so I want to be sure it’s the class that fits me best. And I know that, once I do it once, any subsequent characters are just going to be experiencing the exact same content with no real agency to make different choices. 

Like Syp, I’m also in a bit of a holding pattern till the new class/race combos drop. At first I was pumped to play a Hobbit Lore-Master, but then I took my old LM from Anor for a spin (did I really level him to 40?) and remembered how bad I am at playing that class. I died… several times… in a very short period of time. I’m sure it’ll come back to me better if I level a character from scratch instead of picking up one I haven’t played in years, but it was discouraging. 

Then I remembered that Dwarves are also getting access to Captain! I was a Cappy main on Gladden for quite a while, until I made the mistake of boosting her to Mordor, and, between the awkward way this game does boosts and the slog that is Mordor, I never played her again. Then I played a lot of Cappy on Shadowfax, before deciding that Legendary servers just aren’t for me. So I think it’s high time to start a new one on Gladden. I’ve always like LotR Dwarves, especially after playing through Moria. For whatever reason I haven’t made more than a couple of them, maybe because a lot of their cosmetic options, both Longbeards and Stout-Axes, are unappealing to me. Not that there aren’t any options I like, it’s just that many of my dwarves end up looking same-y.

Why is it that sometimes my favorite pastimes, which are supposed to be relaxing, end up giving me anxiety? Is that just me, or is this a thing? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve logged into an MMO, only to stare at the character selection screen for a while, not be able to decide who to play, then logged out. And yet, sometimes when I decide to buckle down and ignore the possibility of playing any other characters, I get burnt out even faster.

I don’t have an answer to this conundrum. I just know that S.O.S. is real.


The Gameboy Color had the best 2D Zelda Games

I’ve been on a Zelda binge lately. I suppose it’s because of the chatter around the Ocarina of Time PC “port” that’s been getting some good buzz, so I decided to go back and play… not Ocarina, but some of the other Zelda games from the period. Don’t ask me why.

I know this won’t be a revelation to many, but the Gameboy Color has some incredible Zelda games. I would, in fact, be willing to entertain the idea that the GBC has the best collection of Zelda games of any console. I think Breath of the Wild is definitely more fun, but it’s hard to compare it to the rest of the series because it’s so different. It’s a bit like comparing the original NES/GB Castlevanias to the Igavanias that came later; they have similarities, but ultimately they’re so different they don’t really belong in the same genre. Maybe Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess beat the Gameboy titles out by a narrow margin… I’m still formulating my personal Zelda tier list. But if we’re just talking 2D Zeldas? Gameboy Color, hands down. 

I know some will read this and say, “Whatever, Colin, take off your nostalgia goggles and look again.” Believe it or not, though, I only recently came to this conclusion. I bought Link’s Awakening DX and the Oracle duology on my 3DS a few years ago. The upcoming closure of the 3DS eShop reminded me to dust off the handheld and poke around and see if there were any games I wanted to play but never got around to buying. There were a few (mostly retro games that aren’t available in any other format. Get on that, Nintendo!), but somehow I ended up playing Link’s Awakening instead of those. I remember getting immediately frustrated by it the first time I tried it, and wrote it off into the same category as the two original NES titles. That is, the category of “showed promise, but was too limited by technical challenges and clunky design to be great.” Oh, how wrong I was. The game actually does a surprisingly good job at guiding you. I think it was a case of having skimmed the text, put the game down for a couple of weeks, then trying to come back a couple of weeks later. In retrospect, I could have used one of the phone booths to point me in the right direction, but starting over was probably the best call in this situation anyway. 

I’m mostly really surprised at how much game they packed into a teeny little Gameboy cartridge. Seriously, how is Link’s Awakening comparable in length to Link to the Past on the SNES? I suppose there were some corners cut; the enemy variety isn’t that great, for instance, but, honestly, weren’t most 2D Zelda baddies just the same things with different sprites and maybe slightly different movement patterns? The dungeons are also really well designed; nary a tile is wasted. 

The plot twist (spoiler warning for a nearly 30 year old game, I guess?), that the whole thing is a dream that Link has while (nearly?) drowning at sea, is interesting. It’s kind of like all of those episodes of Star Trek (Voyager especially) that end with time travel happening such that the whole episode never happened, but less frustrating. It was also an excuse for the game to do some weird stuff and make a lot of Nintendo references, like random 2D platformer sequences with Goombas and Piranha Plants for some reason. It also gives the whole thing a tinge of tragedy once you know. You can’t help but feel bad when the bosses start pleading with you not to wake the wind fish or we will all disappear, and as the game closes, it shows all the people of this world fade from view, ending with Marin, who Link clearly has a thing for. A lot of these themes were reused, albeit in a weirder, yet somehow subtler, kind of way, in Majora’s Mask, although I was never a fan of that particular game. 

I know Nintendo put out a Switch remake of Link’s Awakening a couple of years ago. It looks cute, and pretty faithful to the original, but I think I prefer the GBC DX version. There’s something about that chunky GBC pixel art and chiptune music that’s just so charming. Again, the remake kept a lot of this charm, with the unique tilt-shift “toy” look, but it just seems like adding paint to a masterpiece. I’m glad that it got a remake so more people will be able to enjoy it (aside from being available on a modern console again, I know a distressing number of people who are biased against pixel art games, especially old ones) but I probably won’t pick it up unless it goes down to an unprecedented low price. 

I have only just started Oracle of Seasons, but I’ve always heard great things about these games. It’s still weird to me that Nintendo, who is so picky when it comes to their IP, let Capcom make a few handheld titles in their precious Zelda series in the early aughts. I have played Minish Cap, and thought it was just OK, but so far OoS seems like a pretty strong successor to Link’s Awakening. 

I actually had a Gameboy Color back in the day, but didn’t get into the Zelda series until later. It’s one of those games I wish I could go back and tell my past self to get because I would have loved it, but at least I have the chance to play them now. 

LOTRO and the trap of altaholism

For its 15th anniversary, Lord of the Rings Online backed up a dump truck to players’ inventories and gave them a ton of new stuff, even more if you were subbed during the anniversary festival. Including this beautiful star cloak. I will gladly pay $15 for that alone, thank you. It was already exciting that free players were getting all of the expansions up to and including Helms’ Deep for free, but then they went and gave out the collector’s edition to Mordor, Minas Morgul, and War of the Three Peaks for free as well. Seriously, if you think there’s any chance you’ll ever play this game in the future, go log in now, or you will be kicking yourself. 

That’s wonderful! I’m really grateful to SSG for being so generous! I even tweeted a dumb meme about it and it took off! (I don’t know about you, but for me, nearly 100 likes and more than 10 RTs is probably some kind of record) There’s just one downside. I had already bought the collector’s editions to Mordor and Minas Morgul. No biggie, it’s super old content at this point, I’ve probably gotten my money’s worth.

…except that I’ve never actually been to those zones. My highest level character is like half way through Mirkwood. I bought those expansions thinking that I’ll get there one day, and at least this way I get cosmetics and other goodies to enjoy along the way. I used the level boosts that came with each, but neither character stuck, partly because of that “I didn’t earn this” effect that much better writers than I have spilled plenty of digital ink over, and partly because LOTRO is really bad at level boosts and I couldn’t really progress with what I was given without a lot of backtracking (I’m told the 120 version is better about this at least). 

How could I possibly have played LOTRO for years, putting in dozens if not hundreds of hours, and never gotten past the second expansion? If you’re mystified, you’re not alone; I’m not really sure how it happened either. The only answer I can come up with is alts. When I say my highest level character is halfway through Mirkwood, I actually can’t tell you for sure without looking if that’s my Rune-Keeper or my Beorning, because they’re so close in level and progress. It’s also about where my Captain was before I used the first of those level boosts on her (which was a huge mistake; at least the second time I used a boost I was smart enough to do it on a fresh character so I wasn’t missing anything by not playing him). I’ve also got a variety of other alts abandoned around the 30s and 40s. 

And that’s just on my main, normal server. There’s also that time I got excited to play on the Arnor progression server until I got distracted long enough that I fell hopelessly behind, the Shadowfax speed leveling progression server (in Deadly difficulty for some reason) until I realized that the server was super dead, and the Treebeard slow leveling server until I realized that I don’t really want to play on a slow leveling server. All of those characters got to the 30-60 range and fizzled. 

I love the early zones of this game — The Shire, all of Bree-Land, Evendim, The Trollshaws — so much, I don’t mind redoing them periodically. Also, am I the only one who finds all of the classes in this game a lot more interesting than they ought to be? Normally, I go into a game like Star Wars: The Old Republic or The Elder Scrolls Online and I find at least one or two classes I like and one or more that I really don’t care for. But in LOTRO, even the classes I can’t play to save my life, like Lore-Master or Warden, I want to be good at because they’re interesting somehow.

I have played far too much on too many alts, and not focused enough on one character, and it has finally come back to bite me. I sometimes fear that the game is going to suddenly shut down one day, and I will really have wasted my money on all those expansions that I’ve never seen, and, worse still, regret that I never got to see all of the cool places I’ve only heard stories of and seen in screenshots. 

All of that said, I don’t consider any of it time wasted. This is a game, and if I’m having fun and relaxing and getting a few moments of respite from the stresses and struggles of life, it’s time well spent. I long ago decided that I wouldn’t let any game, or any group within that game, dictate how I spent my free time or plan my life around it. I will play in whatever way is the most fun, or not at all. But there’s also something to be said for seeing something new and different rather than repeating things I’m already familiar with. 

Like any good Hobbit, I prefer the comfort of the well known, but, like Bilbo, there are a lot of adventures waiting for me outside of my comfort zone. Maybe this anniversary will be the wizard that pushes me out the front door. 

My top 5 quality of life wishes for New World

I wasn’t really planning on playing New World at launch. I had planned to sit the launch out at least until it was on sale, but then, at the last minute, FOMO got the better of me. This is the biggest MMO launch we’ve had in a while, and we don’t get many new launches like this, so I couldn’t pass up being there one day one. I braved the ridiculous queues (which have calmed down or disappeared now, at least on my server), and, while it hasn’t made me forget about every other MMO out there, I’ve been having fun with it.

I keep sitting down to write my comprehensive thoughts on the game, but somehow I never can. I have a lot of ambivalence about the game. I’m not really sure it’s for me, and Amazon Games doesn’t have the best track record, but then last night I logged in and played for like four hours straight so it must be doing something right. I think a lot of it will depend on how much care and attention Amazon puts into this game going forward, and what kind of changes they make. Will they focus primarily on the PvP side of things? Will their cash shop, which is currently pretty tame, suddenly explode with all manner of lockboxes, pay-to-win, and other grossness? Will dungeons continue to be (from what I’ve heard) somewhat underwhelming and samey and not terribly rewarding? If any of these are true, I may not stick around for the long term.

Regardless of anything else coming or not coming to the game, there are a number of quality of life improvements I would like to see.

5. Barber

At least New World is up front about the fact that you can never change your appearance after creating your character; it says so before you leave the character creation screen. But why? Why can’t I at least change my hairstyle? I actually rerolled my character after the first night — yes, when the queues took six hours or more — because I didn’t like the way he looked once I got in-game.

I’m sure that this will come to the cash shop eventually, just like it is in most modern MMOs that launch with a cash shop already in place: Guild Wars 2 and Elder Scrolls Online spring to mind. But I would really like to be able to change up my character’s appearance for in-game gold. I just talked to a guildmate last night who liked the way his character’s hair looked… until he put a hat on. That’s the kind of thing you don’t get to see on the creation screen, and I think it’s important to be able to make those changes after character creation.

4. Real transmog

Transmogrification, transmutation, glamour, outfits, costumes, call it what you will, I just want to be able to change the appearance of the dorky looking armor piece with good stats that I just got from a drop to that of the cool one that it’s replacing. New World has a transmog system already… but only for cash shop armor sets (and I think some that come from achievements? I’m unclear on that). And the armor sets in the cash shop right now range from gaudy to hideous. There’s really only one or two that I almost like, but I’m not sure I’m willing to drop $10-$15 on it yet. Fortunately, Twitch Prime is currently giving out a pirate outfit, which isn’t bad at all. It doesn’t stand out from the random gear skins you get early on, but I don’t need to, I just need it to not be ugly.

A lot of the skins I’ve gotten so far are really nice, I would love for this game to copy the cosmetic system of any other MMO — even cosmetic systems I don’t care for as much — and allow me to make my character’s outfit look the way I want. I would prefer a system that lets me just stamp skins I have in my inventory to my outfit and then keep that until I change it, but I would settle for one that lets me change the skin of this particular item, and forces me to redo it every time I change gear. Again, this system is already in the game, why not open it up to every skin?

Early on, I had this nice quaker look going, with a long black coat and a round black hat, and I really wanted to keep it, but alas, I quickly got new gear that made me look like a garish Revolutionary War soldier. I stashed the old stuff in my bank, in the hope that this will get added later.

3. Filter for transmog skins

When the aforementioned guildie was bemoaning the way his hair looked in hats, I mentioned to him that he could hide hats by clicking on the head slot, then clicking change skin, then picking hide. Even after I pointed this out, he said it wasn’t an option for him. It took him a second try to find what should, in my opinion, be the first thing on the list, because it was obscured by all of the clutter of skins he doesn’t own. Why can’t we at least filter those out? While you’re at it, I’d love to be able to filter by light, medium, and heavy as well. Especially if the number of skins grows with the above real transmog.

2. Cheap quick travel between cities

Ok, I get it, you’re trying to give me a reason to run around a lot so I’ll PvP and stop to pick flowers and stuff, but it can take me most of a play session just to get from one town to the next. Yes, I can teleport between cities I’ve been to using Azoth (which I keep reading as Azeroth), but I’m still unclear about how rare or valuable that’s going to be later in the game, so I’m trying to save it (besides, at level 20ish I only have enough for 2-3 teleports depending on weight). I understand having a fee for teleporting to town from the far end of nowhere or even to the shrines out in the world, but would it be the worst thing if I could just teleport from one city to another for free? Or at least for gold? It’s especially frustrating since banks are separated by town, so if I’m in a distant town and want to craft something, I have to hike all the way back to my original town to get my mats.

If quick travel cost premium currency I would say it was a cash grab, but it costs Azoth and… oh no, Azoth is totally going in the cash shop at some point isn’t it? That’s a fun pay-to-win argument just waiting to happen.

1. Multiple characters per server

It’s kind of ridiculous that I can only have one character per server, and two characters in total. It feels like such an oldschool MMO thing. This game has a lot of weapon types, and I don’t doubt that it will be adding more in the future, but you had better figure out which weapons you want before level 20, because after that you will be charged a fee to respec your stats. Early on, I was dumping my points into dexterity and using spear and musket. Then, one night when I didn’t feel like waiting in queues, I rolled a second character who used fire and ice magic. I really liked the mage playstyle!

Normally, I would be happy to level two different characters with two different skill sets, especially since this game has multiple starting zones. But in this game, I have to choose one character that I want to play on the server with my friends. After some introspection, I decided that I wanted to be a healer, so I dumped all of my stat points into focus and picked up a life staff, and I’ve been alternating my secondary weapon between spear and ice gauntlet, but I still kind of miss that all-out DPS life.

If it’s a matter of people being worried about PvP factions spying on each other, I would gladly be locked into one faction account wide. I don’t really care that much about this game’s factions anyway; I only joined one because the main quest made me, and I only picked the one I did because that’s the one I had to pick to join my guild. Honestly, I probably would have picked the yellow faction, not because I like the theme better than the others, but because I like yellow better than green and purple.

An acceptable alternative would be a loadout system that let me set up a few different builds and swap between them for free on a cooldown. In fact, with how crafting- and gathering-centric this game is, that might actually be better (as much as I love making alts).

So that’s my top 5 quality-of-life addition wishlist. There are, of course, other things that I would love to be able to do, like setting up custom chat channel filters, zooming in to first person, being able to rebind the hide UI key (seriously, why is that a thing?), some improvements to the auction house UI, etc. but the above are the top 5 highest priority for me. If you’ve been playing New World, let me know what kind of improvements you would like to see!

LotRO life in the fast lane on Shadowfax

Last time I talked about my excitement for LotRO’s Shadowfax progression server, with its faster leveling and fast expansion release cadence, and pondered what class to play. I still hadn’t decided by the time the new servers went up, so I ended up just rolling a bunch of characters and seeing which one stuck.

After a lot of waffling and self-induced anxiety and an existential crisis or two, I ended up maining a Captain. A High Elf, believe it or not. I’m not a big Elf person (they’re kind of jerks in every universe) but they have some cool animations and a unique shout, and I have the High Elf race, so why not? Captain is just such a comfortable class for me. While I played one a bunch back in my early days with LotRO, I hadn’t played one seriously in years, but it all came back to me very quickly. I’ve been leveling in tank spec, just because I was previously DPS. Cappy DPS isn’t that great to begin with, so I can’t say I felt a lot of difference in TTK, but the extra survivability is definitely noticeable. 

As I was trying different alts, I tinkered with the new difficulty settings. I landed on Hard, mostly because that’s the minimum difficulty to get the account-wide title (which I will never use, because when you have the title “Walked Into Mordor” why would you ever use anything else?) and because it was just enough added challenge to be fun, but not enough to make killing every random mob feel like a chore. LotRO isn’t known for its difficult open world content, but I don’t think I realized just how weak it really is until I forgot that I was on hard mode, then went into a quest instance and was bewildered at how fast I was mowing down mobs above my level. Then I remembered that difficulty settings don’t work in instances. I would probably be playing on Deadly or higher difficulty on at least some of my tankier characters, just for the novelty of the challenge, but the random AoE nukes are more annoying than fun. The constant dread visual effect and the Eye of Sauron popping up over your head every few minutes were extremely distracting, which was a big turnoff initially, but fortunately SSG removed those after a few days. I wish I could talk my friends into playing on this server with me, because I think it would be a blast to get a party together and crank the difficulty up to max and play through the whole game like it was one giant dungeon. 

The culture of the Shadowfax server is interesting. I haven’t done a rigorous population study or anything, but from the frequency of chat and the number of people I bump into while leveling, it seems like there’s a decent population, comparable to maybe one of the smaller regular servers. Oddly enough, there aren’t really a lot of guilds. There’s one mega guild that I see recruiting pretty much every time I play, and apart from that, I’ve seen maybe one or two others. I know that there’s no real point in hitting the gear treadmill when it’s all going to be invalidated every two months when a new expansion gets added, but that’s not usually the main reason I join a guild anyway. I’m mostly there for the social aspect (the fellowship, if you will excuse the pun). Instance runs are just a convenient side effect. The LFF channel is pretty lively, though, with people PUGing dungeons and raids much more frequently than I usually see on my regular server. I saw some naysayers claiming that there wouldn’t be an economy on Shadowfax, but I’ve been making a pretty good living off of dyes so far. Maybe that means I’m the only one bothering with crafting? 

The biggest reason I didn’t stick around LotRO’s original progression server was that I fell behind the curve and couldn’t catch back up as new expansions unlocked. From what I’ve heard, it seems like it lost a lot of population because of this, and because speedier players drifted away waiting for content unlocks. In my view, Shadowfax has fixed this both problems speeding up leveling and speeding up expansion unlocks. I know most of LotRO’s population is more keen on Treebeard, and I may roll there after I get a character or two up to cap, but for now, Shadowfax is my LotRO home. 

How a Star Wars novel got me back into SWTOR

I’m not one of those people who roots for villains in media. I’ve always found it to be a little disturbing when people do. Why would you want the evil, mass murdering bad guy to win? What does that say about your own personality? But there is one bad guy that I do really like (and he’s the only one that I can think of) and that is Thrawn from the Star Wars universe. He never graced the big screen, but he was so much more interesting than any of the villains who did, because, rather than being a Sith, whose only aspiration is to amass and hold personal power through fear, manipulation, and coercion, Thrawn is a master military strategist. His specialty is getting inside the minds of his opponents by studying their culture, especially their art, and using that information to extrapolate what they will do in a battle. Implausible? Sure, but no more than any other sci-fi/sci-fantasy villain trope. There’s something interesting about a villain who is just smarter than everyone else in the galaxy, who has an intuitive understanding of how people think. He can beat force-users, not by overpowering them as so many Star Wars villains try to do, but by outmaneuvering them. He conquers, not because he wants to sit, dragon-like, on the horde of all the power and glory he has amassed, but because he enjoys the challenge. It’s all a chess game to him.

I read Timothy Zahn’s original 1990s Thrawn trilogy some years ago (long after it came out, but well before the Disney buyout) and, more recently, I’ve been reading Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising (I somehow missed the first new canon Thrawn trilogy, but I will definitely have to circle back around after I’m done with Ascendency). I’m sure many authors look back at their older works and ponder what they would have done differently, but it must be an interesting and unique opportunity for Zahn to get the chance to rewrite the history of one of his most beloved characters within a whole new canon. I’ve been loving Ascendency because it’s the story of how the Republic made contact with the Chiss Ascendency from the Chiss point of view. The first book is almost over before the Republic, the Jedi, or the Force (by that name) are even mentioned. Most of this book is establishing lore about Chiss culture, and I’m lapping it up. I imagine some readers might find it tedious, since it’s very disconnected from the greater Star Wars universe, even though you know it’s going to get there sooner or later, but personally, I’m in no hurry to get back to boring old Anakin being in the spotlight again. 

Of course, with all of this talk of the Chiss, I wanted to role play as one, so to Star Wars: The Old Repbulic I went. I rolled a new Chiss Assassin. In Legends canon, which SWTOR is still a part of, Chiss hold a societal stigma against Force sensitives, so those individuals suppress their abilities with drugs or face exile. As a Chiss force user, my character has faced a lot of trauma: She was told she was an embarrassment to her family, then sold into slavery to the Sith, who want to train her as a weapon of war. Despite all of this, she maintains a light side alignment, because all she wants is to find peace and serenity in a galaxy of chaos and conflict. While most Sith thrive on violence, she avoids it wherever possible, because she has found that she is most connected to the Force when she feels calm, and killing disrupts that calm more than anything. Being raised in the Ascendancy and the Sith Empire, she doesn’t know much about the Jedi way, she just knows that the Sith philosophy is wrong, but is trapped inside their system. Maybe if she plays the system long enough, she can escape and pursue inner peace? But at what cost?

I love that this game encourages mental role play the way it does. The game forces none of this on me, except that I was a Force sensitive slave who worked her way up through the ranks, and even that is easily ignored if you have a different backstory in mind. I’ve never role played this with any other players, and to be honest I’m not really that interested in doing so (especially on the Empire side; a lot of the roleplay that happens there is not something I want to be associated with), it’s all just the mental story I’m writing within the bounds of the game. It’s frustrating when the three options you’re given don’t include what you imagine your character saying, but that doesn’t stop me from mentally inserting my own dialogue. Star Wars lore is so rich and deep that it’s fun to imagine different characters with different alignments and take them through even stories you’ve played before. This is the same story as it was the last time I did this on my Sorc (also a Chiss, incidentally; my character roster is like 50% Chiss), but she was kind of a neutral dark side, not cruel for cruelty’s sake, just selfishly doing whatever she can to climb the Sith political ladder. Yet, even though the events are the same, it feels very different because my character is so different. 

To be fair, not all class stories are so flexible; if you come up with a good enough justification, you can easily play a light side Sith, but a dark side Trooper just goes around committing war crimes left and right and gets nothing worse than a stern look from General Garza. I never said the game was perfect, just fun. 

Dear MMO devs, please stop nerfing complex classes

I was perusing the Guild Wars 2 Reddit the other day, and I was struck by how many Elementalist nerf memes there were. Sure, it’s Reddit, they like to be negative about everything, but it’s kinda true. Elems, Weavers especially, have a significantly more complex rotation compared to other classes, for little to no more DPS output (depending on the fight; they still shine certain circumstances, but I’m talking more broadly), and on top of that, they’re the squishiest class, sporting light armor and the smallest health pool in the game. And this most recent balance patch somehow managed to make it even worse. This is supposed to be the class that has the best theoretical maximum DPS, but with a rotation that makes it hard to hit that potential all the time. Nerfing that potential takes away any incentive I have to put in the work it takes to learn that spec. 

Elementalist is my least favorite GW2 class, so I’m not personally too affected by this, but it reminds me of what I’ve seen in other MMOs time and time again; when they’re new, they try new things with a complex class that rewards hard work, then, over time, as metas shake out, players of other classes start to complain about the fact that their (much simpler) class can’t parse the same numbers as everyone else, and eventually the devs cave and homogenize everything. This happened to the Jedi Shadow/Sith Assassin tank in SWTOR; at one point, Shadows, who, oddly enough, wear light armor, made nearly unkillable tanks at endgame, but were hard to play because their rotation required a lot of cooldown management. Now, after years of nerfs and changes in encounter design, they have been out of favor for a while now. Similarly, LOTRO’s Warden was famous for its combo system that allowed it to accomplish incredible feats of buffing, debuffing, tanking, healing, and DPS all at once, soloing on-level instances meant for whole parties. But now, it is a pale reflection of its former self, and can be outshined in any area by other classes, and is really only played by those who find its frantic, muscle memory-heavy playstyle gratifying. 

I also wouldn’t be happy if these games just dumbed down their complex classes along with a nerf. I think there should be some classes that reward complex play, and others that are more accessible with less reward. 

I’m all for good balance, but good balance doesn’t mean that every class needs to do the same amount of DPS. If it did, you could effectively put different graphics on the same set of abilities for every class and call it a day. Some classes should put out less damage because they provide other utility, and some classes should reward complex play with more damage output. 

Musing about what class to level on Shadowfax

Lord of the Rings Online announced its speed-leveling Shadowfax server and its slowmo-leveling Treebeard server just a few short weeks ago, and now we know they’re coming this Wednesday. As someone who has been playing LotRO for ages but has never made it past Mirkwood, I’m excited for the fast leveling server. I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like if this game did what Star Wars the Old Republic did and upped the XP output of the main story quests so you can focus exclusively on those while leveling, choosing to do side quests only if you’re interested in them, not as a primary means to level. I’m not sure if Shadowfax will boost leveling speed quite that much, but since LotRO doesn’t have SWTOR’s level scaling, that’s probably for the best. Sorry, Treebeard, as much as I love you as a character, I felt like Arnor’s leveling was too slow, so I don’t think your even slower pace is for me. 

So the question is, what class do I want to level this time? I might still be on Arnor if I hadn’t started with Warden, realized that class wasn’t for me, rerolled, and then felt hopelessly behind. Ok, I probably would have ended up hopelessly behind anyway, because that’s how it goes with me and this game, but still, picking the right class the first time around is important with these limited time progression servers. 

I’ve never made a serious attempt at a Guardian. I know they’ve fallen out of favor as tanks, but I’m probably going to be playing mostly solo anyway, so DPS is fine. Besides, the health regen-focused red line and the melee AoE-focused yellow line both sound interesting. 

I’ve had a Minstrel for a long time, but I’ve never put serious time into him, which is something I regret. It’s a fun class, and I like healing. Besides, Bards are such an iconic RPG staple, and so many MMOs are missing them these days. 

I have a high level captain, but it has been years at this point since she was my main, and I kind of have the urge to level a new one. I always played in DPS spec, and I know captains are considered the best tanks right now, so I could always try leveling in tank spec. It might go a little slower, but the faster leveling speed should more than make up for that, right?

Finally, I rolled a new Hunter after their rework a while back, but honestly felt like it made everything a little too easy. Then again, I never made it out of Bree-Land, so maybe with faster leveling, I’ll get to more challenging content before I get too bored, and be glad for the extra power.

Right now I’m leaning toward one of the two tank classes. Logically, I feel like I should want to play the Guardian, since it’s new to me, but I’ve also been thinking about the Cappy a lot lately. We’ll see how I feel Wednesday!

ESO: Back in Black(wood)!

I’ve been a fan of The Elder Scrolls Online ever since it reinvented itself with the One Tamriel update. For the last few years, it has been solidly my number two MMO after Guild Wars 2, but the Greymoor expansion was a huge turnoff for me for a lot of little reasons that added up to me pretty much quitting the game for a year. 

Greymoor started off at a big disadvantage, because it followed hot on the heels of Elsweyr, which I think will always be peak ESO for me. Elsweyr had a quirky, light-hearted vibe, which was such a nice change of pace from this game’s usual heavy, oppressive atmosphere. I mean, Elsweyr is a land of cat-people, who, depending on the moon phase they were born under, range in size from a normal house cat that can talk and do magic, to your standard playable humanoid Khajiit, to tigers gone Hulk. The zone was colorful, the story was engaging, the characters were memorable, and it added a lot to Elder Scrolls lore. Then came Greymoor, and it was the exact opposite. For one, it decided to beat the dead horse that is Skyrim. I’ve never liked any of the single-player Elder Scrolls games, and while Skyrim is the one I’ve put the most time into, it never grabbed me, so I don’t have fond memories of putting hundreds of hours into it like some people do. As if bleak vikingland wasn’t off-putting enough, ZOS decided to layer on vampires and gothic horror, which gave me eye strain, not only from squinting to see inside of shadowy subterranean castles, but also from rolling my eyes so hard. Just what we needed in 2020: Dark, bleak, and angsty. The Markarth DLC wasn’t much better, and was only bearable because Pippin was in it (seriously, how did ZOS not advertise that they got Billy Boyd to voice a character in their DLC? He’s not even credited on IMDB, but it has been confirmed to be him by official sources. Marketing fail). I slowly slogged my way through the stories of both, but only out of a sense of obligation. 

Anyways, that was last year, last expansion. I was more than a little afraid that I was going to have similar feelings about Blackwood, and if I did, it might be the end of my time in ESO. After all, it’s a retread of a locale from another TES game I own but barely played with an even more edgy Macguffin: Hellgates run by a four-armed devil who wants to destroy the world for no apparent reason. But so far, the story has had a lot less of the “Oh noes, the end times are upon us” stuff that I thought I was going to find, but rather feels more a mystery novel (something that the NPCs keep reminding us, which I find kind of immersion breaking, but whatever). Also, choosing Eveli Sharp-Arrow, a spunky Wood Elf who you may remember as the best part of the Orsinium DLC, to be the main character of this one, and then pairing her with Lyranth, a sarcastic daedra from Coldharbor, was a great way to keep things light, even when you do get to the doom and gloom parts. 

Speaking of story, is it just me or does this game talk down to us more and more each expansion? There was a part where my character had learned some information earlier in the story, explained it to one NPC, and then literally turned around and another NPC explained the whole plot, which I just explained to someone else within earshot of her, back to me again. There have always been optional “Wait, who are you and what were we just doing?” conversation branches here and there, and that’s fine. Maybe you left the game for a while and now you’re back and wrapping up old quests want a refresher on what’s going on. That’s actually a great thing that I think a lot of RPGs could learn from. But this was just straight up narrative hand-holding. It’s not like the narrative is even that complex; if you’re paying attention, you’ll get it, and if you’re not paying attention, you probably don’t care enough to listen to the review session, do you? Don’t get me wrong, most of the story is great, but there are also some moments scattered throughout where it just feels like the writers think we’re stupid.  

The biggest selling point of this expansion for me was the companion system. This has the potential to be a real gamechanger, especially for people who like to play alone or in small groups. Sure, companions crank out only a fraction of the DPS of a human player, but it might be just enough to duo or even solo a lot of dungeons with some effort (I’m sure there are people who do this already, but I mean possible for us mere mortals). Not content to simply hand you human pets, ESO went the extra mile to give the two companions added thus far their own story, and giving them their own reactions to what the player chooses to do, which gives me real SWTOR vibes. 

Of course, there are only two companions in this expansion, and everyone already is asking when the next one will be available, and who they will be. Some are hoping for various well-known NPCs, but I kind of doubt that will happen. As cool as it would be to have Razum-Dar or Naryu at my beck and call, it seems more likely to me that companions will be new characters created specifically to be companions, so they’re more of a blank slate. Plus, it would make doing old quests that involve that character kind of awkward. Then again, I once saw Abnur Tharn in three different places wearing three different outfits in the same room in the Mages’ Guild, so who knows. Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff happens in this game. Either way, nobody should be surprised if companions start popping up in the cash shop for at least $30 a pop, because ESO will use any trick in the book when it comes to monetization. 

LotRO: Running Wild(wood)

I promised last time that I would talk more about Lord of the Rings Online’s new Wildwood zone, so here we are. But before we get into that, can I just gush about how much I’m enjoying the Burglar class? To be fair, all of LotRO’s classes are fun, but I always thought Burg was one of my least favorite. I’m not saying I like it more than the Beorning or Rune-Keeper, but it has a nice, simple rotation, a lot of cooldown tricks to boost your DPS or get you out of trouble, just enough cleave, and stealth is always nice when you just don’t feel like dealing with enemies right now. Plus, the burglar is just so quintessential to Middle-Earth. 

Of course, coming back to this character after a long while, I had to design a new outfit for him. I was going for a well-to-do Hobbit look with this one, inspired, of course, by Bilbo Baggins, when I realized that I was inadvertently cosplaying Scrooge McDuck from the 2017 Ducktales reboot. New Ducktales is a fantastic series with an incredible voice cast — a rare case of a modern reboot that actually outshines its predecessor — so I decided to just run with it. If anyone knows of any 1-H weapons that look like fancy little canes, let me know and I will totally rock those. 

I mused last time about why SSG chose to even create the Wildwood zone in the first place. I have since read a few theories, from the one I gave, that they realized that Angmar is the worst zone in the history of MMOs[citation needed] and people want a way to sidestep it (I always forget that there’s already Forochel to do this, though I guess many people don’t find arctic/snow zones particularly inviting either), to the theory that their metrics showing that a lot of players get bored with the game around that level (anecdotally, I have to say, I do have an inordinate number of characters abandoned around the Misty Mountains) and wanted something fresh and inviting to keep them occupied. Still others pointed out that all of the mobs in this zone drop pages to those books that give you a skill point when you catch ‘em all, not just the humanoids as usual (why did this wasp have a page of The Expert’s Guide to Dirty Fighting? We may never know), and that this may have been designed as a way for players to get all of their skill points in before moving on to Moria without having to farm as hard for them. I feel like if that was the sole purpose, though, it would have been much easier to have the pages just drop from everything in the existing zones. Whatever the reason, it’s still a bit odd, but I’m enjoying having something new to do on an alt that doesn’t require me doing years worth of old content first. 

Wildwood is kind of a strange zone for LotRO, because there isn’t really much of an overarching story going on here as far as I can tell. Certainly nothing tying it to the trilogy. Just a bunch of people (and one random Ent for some reason) hanging out in the middle of nowhere, asking you to do stuff for them. And I do mean in the middle of nowhere; it took some wandering around before I even found any quests, since, if there are breadcrumbs leading you here, I missed them entirely. For anyone else looking, there are quest hubs on the east and west ends, near the borders to Tresselbridge and Evendim, and another smaller one near the very center of the zone. Orcs have taken over a few villages in the area, but, while you get a daily popup quest to kill them and blow up their stuff (seriously, why do their supply crates explode so violently? Are they shipping Star Trek bridge consoles or what?), nobody really seems especially worried about them. Apparently that’s no more urgent than hunting moose. 

Speaking of fighting things, I love that new combat musical cue. It reminds me of some of the vanilla LotRO combat music, but with a twist. Well done as always, Bill Champagne!

The new missions are a bit underwhelming. I’m not sure if the ones in the Three Peaks DLC were any better (I doubt it), but between these and The Further Adventures of Bilbo Baggins, I feel like missions are less like skirmishes, as I was hoping, and more like regular old quests that happen to take place in an instance that scales to your level and group size. It’s not terrible, just not the tentpole feature SSG is touting them as. At least there are a lot of them, so if you do decide to grind missions for currency or levels, it’s not like you’re stuck running the same instance over and over. 

The rewards from these missions aren’t that appealing either. The mining pick weapon skin could be cool for a dwarf, and some of the pets aren’t bad (some of them, like the moose, would have been cooler as mounts, but I’m not surprised since this game is very stingy with any mount that isn’t a new blanket thrown over a boring old horse/pony), but nothing I’m really excited to grind for. There’s some good jewelry in there, I guess, but I’m never that excited by gear I’m going to quickly outlevel anyway. 

It has been a lot of fun getting to know my Burglar again while exploring this new zone. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with him once I’ve outleveled it. Do I want to take him through Moria? I’d really like to get back to my Beorning, who I also love, and push into some content I’ve never seen. And I was just talking to a friend about how much I used to enjoy playing my Captain, who I haven’t played in ages because I level boosted her to Mordor and then couldn’t progress because the TTK and mob density was so ridiculous. Maybe I could grind a level or two in Wildwood missions and give Mordor another try while a little overleveled? I have no shortage of options in LotRO, I just wish I had the time to explore them all.