LotRO: Walking Into Mordor

I finally did it. I walked into Mordor, and I have the title to prove it. They said one simply could not do it, yet here I am.

You ask, “but last time you posted about Lord of the Rings Online, weren’t you were in Moria on a rune-keeper?” Yes I was. And I finished Moria, too, by the way, and I still love my rune-keeper and I have been working my way through southern Mirkwood with him lately. “Then what are you doing in Mordor with your old captain that you haven’t played in a couple of years?” Excellent question, hypothetical reader with a surprising knowledge of my many alts! The answer is that I finally broke down and bought the Moria collector’s edition and boosted my cappy to 105.

I’m not gonna lie, it was a bit of a rough week/month for me, and this was kind of a stress buy. Plus it was on sale, and apparently I can’t resist a sale. I was recently playing with my friend on his captain, and it reminded me of how much fun I used to have with that class. Unfortunately, my captain was also half way through Moria, so redoing the content I just did on my rune-keeper didn’t sound very appealing. A level boost seemed like the perfect remedy for this situation, and one just happened to be included with the collector’s edition of Mordor. And honestly, at the rate I plod through content in this game, I’m starting to worry that I’ll never see a lot of the later content before the game shuts down (not that I’m expecting that any time really soon, but realistically, it’s not going to be around forever).

Several things jump out at me upon boosting from Moria/Siege of Mirkwood content straight to content that’s less than a year old. First is just how much better this game’s graphics have gotten. The graphics in Eriador show their age, though there are certain places where it really doesn’t matter; the landscapes are absolutely gorgeous despite 2007’s technical limitations. The graphics in Mordor are significantly improved, with some really nice texture and animation work. Yes, to a certain extent, it still looks like a game from 2007–most NPCs’ textures still look painted on, with no facial animation or overly fancy armor meshes, and of course some of those same awkward animations are still there and just as awkward as they were back in the day–but still, the improvement is striking, especially not having progressed slowly and naturally through the areas added by the various expansions. Second is that, while I thought ahead enough to boost a character who had all of their skills unlocked and whose rotation I was familiar with, I have no idea how to do mounted combat and the Aria gives you zero mount XP. So far it has only been a problem here and there, so hopefully it won’t be of a big deal, but still, it would have been nice if they had boosted my mount’s level as well as my character’s.

I am also once again reminded of what a great job this game has done with its worldbuilding. Granted, as much of it as is reasonably possible is pulled straight from the pages of Tolkien’s books, but I think that master wordsmith would be proud of what Turbine/Standing Stone has added to his legendarium. And the attention to detail never ceases to amaze me! Frodo is even missing a finger in the scenes after the ring is destroyed! I had to fiddle around with my camera for a few minutes to even check. A lesser studio wouldn’t have bothered to create a new nine-fingered character model, or at best just slapped a bandage texture over his ring finger. That’s dedication!

The Mordor collector’s edition also came with the High Elf race and a character slot. While I’m trying to resist the temptation to create yet another alt, I figured I’d at least run through the unique tutorial instance they created to shoehorn in this minutely different, anachronistic set of elves. It was cool to get to be a part of The Last Alliance and see the Free Peoples’ first encounter with the Nazgul, though I was kind of disappointed I didn’t actually get to be there for the defeat of Sauron. Rather, I got stabbed with a Morgul blade à la Frodo, which apparently, rather than turn them into a wraith as the Witch-King thought, causes High Elves sleep for three thousand years. I also thought it was cool that they start you out with a set of armor that looks like the one you wore in the tutorial, but old, tarnished, and complete with a tattered cape. Not only is it sometimes nice to have gear that isn’t in totally pristine condition, it also makes sense for something that’s been taking up space in Elrond’s Attic for a few millennia.

All told, I’m really happy with my purchase, and really happy to be back in LotRO.


Crusaders of Light: The Okayest Mobile MMO I’ve Ever Played

I’m not a big fan of mobile games in general. Mobile lends itself to the worst kinds of free-to-play games; your smartphone is easily accessible, especially in short bursts, and many people have their credit card information saved to their account, so it’s the perfect venue for lockboxes, wait-to-play, pay-to-win/pay-to-advance, and other annoying marketing strategies hoping to capitalize on impulsive spenders. Add to that the fact that touch controls are inherently awkward and imprecise, and it’s just not a very good platform for games. There are some gems–Mage Gauntlet, Bloons TD 5, Implosion, and a few ports like Rollercoaster Tycoon and Final Fantasy III and IV come to mind–but most of them are paid games, and honestly I’d choose to play all of those on my PC if I was sitting in front of it.

And yet mobile is just so darned so convenient. Who among us hasn’t been stuck in a waiting room or something and wished that they could somehow play their favorite MMO? So I’ve been on a quest for a while for a good MMORPG (or even an MMO-ish ARPG) that I can play when I’m AFK. Sadly, I’ve mostly searched in vain. I’ve waded through a lot of badly translated imports (poor translations ruin the experience for me; I’d rather have no dialog than bad dialog) and mediocre gameplay without finding much worth playing.

I think I first came across Crusaders of Light on Massively OP. It’s pretty much your standard Chinese WoW clone. The graphics, while very clearly trying to imitate Blizzard’s iconic style, are passable, and the gameplay looked fun enough, so I gave it a shot. I was impressed by the fact that it’s fully voiced. I’ve always felt that fully voiced media has better translation than plain text, not only because it means that the company had to sink a decent amount of money into translation, but also because you at least had to get an English speaking person (presumably a native speaker) to read the lines, and they will probably object to awkward syntax or outright nonsense phrases. I also enjoy the combat. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s fun to run around, dodging red circles and slinging fireballs. I’ve resigned that autopath/autoplay is just a thing that all mobile MMOs seem to have. I get it, it’s annoying to run for long periods on a mobile device, but it also serves to disconnect me from the game. At least Crusaders of Light makes me feel a little more in control, asking me to press buttons to interact with objects instead of just watching my character gather five flowers and return to the questgiver with zero input from me (the moment I decided Lineage II mobile wasn’t for me was the moment when my phone went to sleep due to inactivity while I was “playing”). Also, pressing any button stops the autopathing, which is nice because some games I’ve tried have made me feel like I’m fighting the game for control until I tap the quest button to stop autoplay.

Overall, it’s far from the best game I’ve ever played, but it’s the closest thing to having a decent MMORPG experience on my phone that I’ve found so far. I’m still pretty early on in the game, and I can see it getting old fast, so we’ll see if there’s enough to keep me coming back.

Let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions for mobile MMOs! I’ll definitely be going back to RuneScape (probably just Oldschool, but who knows) when that launches on mobile, and if the Tree of Savior mobile version ever materializes I’d be interested to give that a shot too.

Fashionably Late to the Overwatch Party

Continuing my trend of picking up ActiBlizz titles after they’re no longer cool, I’ve recently gotten into Overwatch. I’m a little less late to this party than Diablo III, but still, at this rate, I’ll be playing Destiny 2 circa 2047. The funny thing is, I didn’t actually want Overwatch. I’m not a big fan of shooters or competitive-only games. I played the beta back in ’16, and thought to myself “Self, if ever I was to get into a shooter, this would probably be it. But I can’t justify $60 for it, because I’m probably never going to play.” Plus I was always bitter that it could have made such a great MMO, but instead they scrapped that and made a Team Fortress 2 clone.

So why did I end up getting it? My wife bought it for me. She’s not the biggest gamer in the world; she really likes Guild Wars 2, but generally the other gaming we do together involves me dragging her around to Star Wars the Old Republic or Elder Scrolls Online. It’s not that she doesn’t like those games, but new and different games tend to stress her out. So that’s why I was surprised when she started talking about getting Overwatch. The theater where she used to work used to run ads for the game, which caught her attention, and she also has several friends who play. A few weeks ago, we found a couple of copies of the GotY edition on sale for more than half off, so my wife bought each of us a copy, and ever since we’ve been playing a few games every night that we have free time.

As I said, I’m not a big fan of competitive shooters. That’s mainly because I’m pretty bad at them. I’ve played mostly against bots so far, though I’ve been brave enough to try a few normal matches (sorry to anyone who’s been paired up with me). I really like the wide variety of characters available. So far my favorite characters are mostly defensive and support (which should be unsurprising to anyone who plays MMOs with me), specifically Bastion, Orisa, Moira, and Torbjorn. I’m really bad at the squishy DPS characters, so I’ve mostly avoided that whole section, but I really want to spend some more time playing Pharah, because her jetpack seems really fun to me (as long as I can stay alive).

So far, the community has been surprisingly jerk-free. I know they’re out there, and I’ll probably run into them more as I rank up, but I’m enjoying it while I can. My biggest complaint so far? I wish there were a way to earn credits outside of getting dupes from lockboxes. I really want that Nova Terra outfit for Widowmaker (even though I’m not that good with her) or the Immortal Orisa (both StarCraft crossovers). If my luck so far is any indication, I doubt I’ll get either from a random drop. It would also be nice if I could sell costumes that I’m never going to use. I’d also be willing to pay money to buy outfits directly, but this is the Age of the Lockbox, so I doubt either of those things are ever going to happen. But hey, if the biggest thing I can find to complain about is that I’m not getting cosmetics fast enough, I guess the game isn’t doing too bad.

Do MMO Control Schemes Discourage Player Interaction?

It is widely agreed that MMO players are less social than they used to be. This is a very complicated issue, and people have suggested a lot of reasons. A common scapegoat is the advent of dungeon/raid finders, which disincentivize players from forming long term relationships in guilds and such. Some blame the casualization of the genre, with players pushing for systems that allow for fast and furious consumption of content, with no reason to slow down and talk to the other players around them. Most importantly, in my opinion, is that Internet culture has simply changed. It’s no longer novel to be talking to someone in another city, another state, or even another country while playing a video game like it was when I started playing MMOs in 2005. Of course, there are always those ever-present rose tinted glasses that players tend to wear when looking back on their early days in gaming.

Then a tweet from blogger (or, sadly, ex-blogger) Braxwolf, got me thinking:

My immediate reaction was that, while I think he’s correct in saying that this is a general trend in MMOs these days, I’ve had that same experience of people snubbing me in chat in Elder Scrolls Online more than in any other game I play. I think that this is, in part, due to the minimalistic UI that the Elder Scrolls series employs. It wasn’t too long ago that we didn’t even have nameplates above characters’ heads, and chat bubbles still don’t usually seem to work for me. It might also be that the players have hidden chat, either to increase immersion or block out whatever political flame war is going on at the moment. But for me, I think the biggest discouragement to interaction when playing ESO versus other MMOs is the control scheme, which is something I had never really thought about.

Back in 2005 and for many years thereafter, I played RuneScape extensively. For those not familiar with the game, it’s an oldschool style game that involves a lot of grinding out levels by clicking on stuff and watching while your character does some action repeatedly–chop a tree, harpoon for sharks, swing a sword, whatever–until the thing you were doing got used up/moved/died. I know that sounds terribly boring, and… well, quite honestly, it kind of was most of the time, but that’s what we did for fun back in my day and we liked it, dangit. But all of this waiting around while your character did stuff allowed for random conversations to pop up. Yes, the average age of the playerbase was probably barely in the teens at the time, so half the time you didn’t want to hear what was being said, but every so often you found someone really cool, added them to your friends list, and talked to them whenever you were bored with no one around. I made some of the best Internet friends this way, and I’m still really sad that I lost touch with some of them.

Later, games moved away from point-and-click controls to more WoW-style controls, and now we’re seeing more and more games (like ESO) with shooter-style action combat controls. In these games you can’t really type without bringing your gameplay to a grinding halt, or at best running the risk of autorunning off of a cliff. ESO takes this a step further, by enabling gamepad support. I’m not sure how many players use gamepads, but I know that if I was, there would have to be something really important to say to get me to put down my gamepad, reach over to my keyboard, type out my message, and then pick up my gamepad again. I’m certainly not going to hold a conversation going back and forth this way.

There are, of course, methods of interaction other than typing. Most notable is voice chat, which has become more accessible than ever with the advent of free platforms like Skype and Discord. But these communication methods are limited to persistent groups like guilds, not organically formed parties or random passersby, and they can be very finicky to set up. Honestly, I think it would be a huge turnoff to have voice chat enabled for just anyone, partly because I hate the sound of my own voice and want random Internet strangers to hear it as little as possible, but mainly because that would make the random obscenities and vitriol that so often crop up in zone chat all the more intrusive and draining.

I don’t really have a good solution for this problem. I don’t really want to go back to point-and-click games, but I think that modern controls schemes, along with all of the other factors mentioned at the opening of this post, have increasingly dragged down social interaction in MMOs. Is there a middle ground? A solution that wouldn’t just be annoying and inconvenient and simply push players away? Probably not. We’ll probably never be as social as we were back in the olden days, and that’s a reality that we’re just going to have to live with.

Fashionably Late to the Diablo III Party

First off, sorry that it’s been so long since I posted. I feel like I should just declare December a no-blog month from now on, because it seems like I always think I’m going to get lots of time for gaming, but then it doesn’t end up happening. And when gaming doesn’t happen, I don’t have much to blog about, and even less time to write about it.

Anyways, what little gaming I did do in December was unexpectedly dominated by Diablo III. I know, it’s over five years old, but I gave up on being cutting edge a long time ago. I really like the Diablo-like gameplay style, but I’ve never been very attracted to the grimdark, apocalyptic, demon-themed setting of actual Diablo games. I’d rather play lighter derivatives like, say, Marvel Heroes. Except that I can’t play that anymore, can I? (Yes, I’m still bitter) I recently saw the base Diablo III box on clearance for $5 at my local Walmart, so I thought I’d give it a shot, and hopefully ease the sting of Marvel Heroes’ passing.

I have to say, the gameplay is really addicting. It’s one of those games that doesn’t involve a ton of thought, but provides an experience that’s best described as “satisfying.” I have heard it compared, on more than one occasion, to popping bubble wrap. My first character was a monk, and I’ve been really surprised by how much fun he is. I figured he’d be a boring, single-target melee class that I could learn the ropes with, then move on to more interesting things (after all, as I’ve mentioned before, my fist MMO character is almost always doomed to be abandoned as the urge to alt sets in). I bought the necromancer DLC while it was on sale because I love summoners in any RPG, but I’ve barely touched it because the monk has been so much fun. He has a surprising amount of AoE, with spinning kicks and exploding bleeds and all. I’m sure I’ll go back and try the other classes–I played Torchlight II at least most of the way through on two of the original classes and a few fan-made mod classes–but I think I’m going to try to finish with my monk first.

As for the story it’s… meh. But that’s just what I’ve come to expect from ARPGs. Marvel Heroes’ story felt like a weak excuse to send you from zone to zone (I don’t think I ever even finished the post-Doom stories). Torchlight and Torchlight II… probably had stories, but I really don’t remember them. Diablo III at least has some good voice-over work, but it still seems like it can be summed up as “demons are bad and want to kill everybody, and you should probably stop them. Oh, and angels are basically Diablo elves who are super powerful but don’t care about the plight of humans.”

If I had to pick between Diablo III and Torchlight II, I’d probably go with Torchlight II. Honestly, they’re both great, solid games, but they’re basically the same game. The things that sway me in Torchlight’s direction are that the graphics are more appealing to me (sort of WoW-ish colorful and cartoony stylization), and, given that Diablo III is always online, it can’t support mods or player created maps, which really extended the life of Torchlight II for me.

I’m about half way through Act III of Diablo III, and I’m hoping to finish before the end of January so I can try that retro Diablo anniversary event.

Farewell Marvel Heroes, Hello Warframe

It’s been a while since I was so immersed in a game that it caused me to lose all track of time. And yet Warframe, a story-light shooter of all things, sucked me in over the weekend and, before I knew it, I had been playing for over four hours.

Oddly enough, the reason why I gave Warframe another try was because of Marvel Heroes. I was reading some forum and comment threads about what people were replacing the game with. Of course, there were a lot of people saying that there’s nothing out there to replace it, because a lot of the charm of Marvel Heroes was wrapped up in the Marvel name. I expected to see a lot of Path of Exile–both games are shameless, online Diablo clones, after all–but I was surprised to see Warframe popping up just as often, if not more so. Warframe is obviously a who different genre than Marvel Heroes, so at first it feels kind of strange, but beyond that, it actually has a lot of similarities. Both games are sort-of-but-not-quite MMORPGs with a lot of mindless action. They’re both heavily instanced, with random group matching, or not if you like playing solo. They both have a ton of “classes”–52 Warframes to Marvel Heroes’ 63 heroes–and both games have excellent free to play models, with all of those classes being earned in game or bought with money. And, as I thought about it, I realized that that was one of my favorite things about Marvel Heroes; it fed into my altaholism in the same way that Warframe had the potential to do. Another thing that both games have in common is that they’re both kind of hard to get into, so it took a couple of attempts, but now I think it’s safe to say that I’m hooked.

I’m still mourning the untimely loss of Marvel Heroes, but at least some good came out of it. I had dabbled in Warframe before, but I wouldn’t have given it as serious a look if I hadn’t read so many glowing reviews of it from ex Marvel Heroes players.

Alas, Poor Marvel Heroes! I Knew Him

Well, it’s official. Marvel Heroes is dead, or at least it soon will be. Of all the MMOs I have played over the years, I never would have guessed this would be the first to go. It’s never been one of my main games, but it’s always been something I come back to from time to time. It’s the perfect game to pick up a new character, blow some stuff up, and move on. No big time commitment, not a lot to think about, just punching bad guys. There aren’t many MMOs that do that well. Back in 2013, I wasn’t a big Marvel fan (I hadn’t even seen most of the movies at that point), but I was fresh off of an obsession with Torchlight II, and was just thinking how cool a Torchlight MMO would be when I saw an announcement for Marvel Heroes. I was initially excited about it because of the kind of game it was, but later I recognized what a perfect game it was for the IP, and I can honestly say that I don’t think I would have been as interested in the Marvelverse as I am if it hadn’t been for this game. Marvel Heroes educated me about a lot of Marvel characters–Rocket Raccoon, Deadpool, Captain Marvel, and, most importantly, Squirrel Girl–long before they showed up in movies or TV shows. Translating comic book characters to ARPG power sets sounds almost as fun to design as it is to play. There will never be another game quite like it.

I was sick yesterday morning when the news hit Massively Overpowered, so I immediately logged in, and there were a lot of mixed reactions. At that time, the official forum announcement hadn’t yet been made, so a lot of people were in denial about it, even coming from legitimate sources like MassivelyOP and Kotaku. Most were stunned or sad. Some people were angry, perhaps rightfully so for those who had just dropped money into the game with little hope of a refund. I feel worst for the console players, who had already been a bit price gouged, and now won’t even get to enjoy their purchase for a whole year before it’s unceremoniously ripped away from them.

I’ll keep the game installed, but I don’t know how much I’ll play before the lights go out December 31st. I’d like to get a couple characters to cap, just to say I did it. I was never good at sticking with a character, especially once I had most or all of my skills unlocked. The whole thing is really sad. We aren’t even clear at this time on why it’s happening; some say it’s because of harassment accusations leveled at the CEO, some say it’s due to lack of money. Maybe a bit of both. I don’t really care what the reason is, I just know I’m going to really miss this game.

You know, in hindsight, we really should have seen this coming. I’m not talking about the lack of communication or legal allegations, I’m not even talking about what a terrible track record superhero MMOs have, I’m talking about back in Spring when they changed the game’s name to “Marvel Heroes: Omega,” and then announced that Ragnarök would be coming. Clear signs of the end times for this game.
…too soon?