LotRO: Walking back into Mordor

Do you ever have regrets about decisions you’ve made in MMOs? A few years ago in Lord of the Rings Online, I needed a crafting alt for a profession I didn’t have on any other characters. I decided to do a class I had never done, Rune-Keeper, with a race I hadn’t done much of, Elf, just to be different. I had to level him a bit to get him to a superior workbench (I’m so glad they got rid of those; they were dumb), but I quickly fell in love with the way the class played. I always regretted not making him a Dwarf, however. I tried to remind myself that Elves had racial passives that were more useful for Rune-Keeper than Dwarves, but it didn’t help. I just like Dwarves a lot more than Elves. Leveling is so slow in LotRO (I know many LotRO fans find it too fast, hence the slowed progression on the legendary server, but I guess I’m just spoiled by other games) that I didn’t want to start over just for the sake of my character’s looks.

Then Minas Morgul came along, bringing with it the new Stout-Axe Dwarf race and a special edition that nets me cosmetics and a character boost. I know a lot of MMO players sneer at level boosts, and I can certainly understand why, especially in this game where the story and the world is the standout feature. But this seemed like a perfect opportunity to create a new dwarf rune-keeper without having to start over at level 1. Plus, it’s a class I already know, so it’s not like I’m going straight to 120 with no idea how to play my character. And if I hate it, I can just go back to my old Rune-Keeper.

It’s also a way for me to resolve another regret: Mordor. I was really interested in the story of Mordor — where will the story go now that we’ve entered more-or-less uncharted territory, with the big-bad dead? — so I bought a similar package for Mordor on sale a while back and level boosted my Captain, and immediately regretted it. The mobs in Mordor have so much health that my Captain in DPS spec has a lot of trouble surviving, and in tank spec it takes her so long to kill mobs that, if I have to pull two mobs at once, the first mob has respawned by the time I’ve killed the second. As far as I can tell, it’s not like they start you off with garbage gear or anything, that’s just the way it is for some classes. I didn’t expect a cake walk into Mordor, but it was just too much to do alone, at least with a Cappy.

So I have decided to take my new Stout-Axe Rune-Keeper through the main quest for Mordor and the associated content before starting Minas Morgul. He’s overleveled, so it has been going pretty quickly. And, once things do get tough, I have more confidence in the Rune-Keeper’s DPS and self-healing than the Cappy’s; I think if I had boosted my Rune-Keeper instead of my Captain for Mordor I wouldn’t need another token today, but there’s nothing I can do about that now.

Long-term, once I’m caught up with current content, I would like to turn him into a healer and run some dungeons with the guild I’ve been a part of for a long time, but have never done anything more than chat with. As much as I love newer, faster paced games like Guild Wars 2 and The Elder Scrolls Online, I miss the experience of healing in more traditional, tab-target MMOs, and from what little grouping I’ve done in the past, the Rune-Keeper is a lot of fun to play as a healer.

LotRO is my WoW Classic


Hey, not sure if you’ve noticed, but a lot of people are playing World of Warcraft Classic. Shocking, I know. As I recently wrote for Massively OP, I never played WoW, but I was interested in giving Classic a try with some friends. I haven’t been converted to Warcraftism, but, weirdly enough, my time in WoW did make me long for The Lord of the Rings Online.

In some ways this shouldn’t be surprising. After all, LotRO did shamelessly steal much of its gameplay mechanics from WoW. Playing a game so similar is bound to stir up old memories. But if I’m turned off by WoW, shouldn’t I be turned off by LotRO?

After thinking about it for a while, I realized why. LotRO has the same effect on me that WoW Classic on my friends. It’s a traditional, tab-target MMO, with mountains of content (no Erebor puns intended), that I played during some of the formative years of my MMO gaming career. Unlike modern WoW, LotRO hasn’t had the budget to do major, Cataclysm-style revamps of the game, so, while it has seen its fair share of controversial updates, the “retail” version of it feels much the same as it did back in its heyday. LotRO is my WoW Classic.

The problem is that I’m still subscribed to WoW Classic. More than once, I’ve logged into LotRO, felt guilty that I’m playing a free-to-play WoW clone while paying for WoW, logged out after an hour, played WoW for half an hour, felt bored, and logged out and played something completely different. This is exactly why I dislike the subscription model, and why it’s bad for the industry as a whole.

Why, you may ask, isn’t Old School RuneScape my WoW Classic? After all, RuneScape was my first MMO, and the thing that I was playing when World of Warcraft Classic and Old School RuneScape were just “World of Warcraft” and “RuneScape.” The answer is… I don’t know. Maybe it’s because RuneScape is from such a different branch of the MMORPG family tree that it doesn’t fire the same nostalgia triggers. Maybe it’s because LotRO has built in so many more quality of life features, whereas OSRS has preserved many of the little annoyances of oldschool MMOs (although, let’s be honest, by 2007, RuneScape had better QoL features than WoW, you just had to earn many of them through levels and/or quests).

Have you ever had a similar experience? Is there a classic MMO that things like the recent WoW nostalgia storm has you longing for?

Holiday Events: Diversions or Disruptions?

Holiday events in MMOs are fun little diversions. They give us an excuse to revisit older, usually low level zones, do something light and silly, and get some cool cosmetics. A lot of games use these as a way to get people back into their game, and it often works. For instance, every May the Fourth, I log back into SWTOR to pick up that year’s recolored astromech droid. If not for that event, I probably would have gone years at a time without logging in, and, of course, once I’ve gone to all of the trouble of patching, I usually poke around in the game to see what’s new.

But lately I’ve noticed a pattern of holiday events having the opposite effect on me. They disrupt the gameplay routine by taking me out of the zone I was working on, taking up a good chunk of my playtime, and making it urgent that I do my daily holiday quests, because if I don’t, they’ll be gone before I get all of the stuff I want. I think every time I’ve wandered away from LotRO has been right after a holiday event. I know I haven’t been back to SWTOR since I binged all of the content to get that XP boosting armor from the Dark vs Light event. And I’m sure I could think of many other examples.

I’m not alone, either. Just as I was thinking about this, Ben (aka Braxwolf) over at Massively OP wrote about ESO’s recent rash of events and its “more is better” attitudes toward festivals. Go read it now, because he describes the problem in that game really well. I especially like this part:

Many MMO players pride themselves on being completionists… They can’t pass up an opportunity to log in and try to accumulate whatever is available at the moment. This mentality is partially what attracts people to MMOs in the first place, but it’s not always compatible with ‘more is better.’ The accumulation has to be reasonably obtainable, else a feeling of hopelessness and burnout can soon follow. I’ve heard some of the biggest cheerleaders within the community complain about the sheer number of events we’ve seen recently. The ‘I can’t even’ is real.

It’s hard to complain about more things to do in your favorite MMO, but time limited events, combined with rewards dangled in front of players, make us feel not only forced into a certain activity, but also rushed through it. And, even if your main MMO isn’t overloading you with events as ESO is, if you bounce around to multiple MMOs like I do, it can be somewhat anxiety-inducing to try to get around to the festivities in all of the games you play, let alone grab all the cosmetics you want, before the season is over.

Games shouldn’t be an obligation. I have a job. They pay me. I shouldn’t feel like I’m paying a game company for the privilege of working a second job in the digital world. I am by no means advocating that games get rid of holiday events, but games like ESO need to be aware of the fact that, while they may bring some players back, they create an exit point for others.

LotRO: Never Mind, I’m Rerolling

You may recall that the last time I talked about LotRO and its Legendary Server, I had decided I was definitely going to see my warden through to 50. At this point, though, I haven’t played for a couple of weeks now because, for some reason, the last few weeks of December is super busy, and my enthusiasm for that character has waned, which has made it harder to want to log in. My warden muscle memory is getting a little rusty, and I’m so far behind the pack now (just finished up the Lone Lands) that starting over isn’t going to make much difference, though I still think I can catch up before Moria hits if I stick with it. Also, while playing warden is really fun, it’s also a little exhausting. There are so many things to keep track of! You’re constantly thinking about building gambits and gambit combos and trying to balance self healing with taunting and DoTing. I love that type of tactical, always-three-steps-ahead gameplay, and it’s very rewarding when you’re hitting everything just right, but I’m realizing that it’s not the kind of thing I want from LotRO right now. I’m more interested in a simpler, more relaxed gameplay experience. I figure, if I’m not happy with the class, I should reroll now and not feel bad about it.

So I rolled a lore-master. “But wait,” you say, “isn’t lore-master probably the next most complex class after warden?” Yes, it probably is. And I’m pretty sure they got a fairly sizable nerf not long ago too. But it has pets and DoTs and a little healing and crowd control! What’s not to love? Plus, it’s a different kind of complexity. It still has that always-three-steps-ahead feel I love about the warden, but with cast bars. You have to use all of your tricks to stay ahead of the game, but it’s more spread out and less frantic. Besides, I never said I made sense.

I’m making quick work of the lower levels. I just did most of these quests on my warden, so rather than reading and doing every possible quest, I’m trying to push myself by only doing on-level or above quests. Going from warden, a self-healing, self-buffing tanking machine, to a lore-master, a squishy caster, has been a bit of an adjustment. On a good day, though, I’m able to use my stuns to keep enemies at bay and burn them down one at a time. On a bad day… well, let’s just say I’ve been stocking up on food and health gear.

I still really want to level a minstrel healer some day, but I think lore-master is probably a better pick for me right now. My minnie is a farmer/cook, so he’s actually a decent level for never having left Ered Luin, just because of crafting XP. This has always been my problem with this game; all of the classes are so well designed that I want to try them all, but there’s so much content that I’ve never seen that I feel bad alting too much. I feel pulled in both directions and usually end up doing neither.

LotRO: An Unexpected Party

For those who don’t know, January 3rd is J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday. It’s something of a holiday among Tolkien fans (I’m a pretty casual fan; I’ve read the Hobbit and the Trilogy, but beyond that, most of what I know comes from LotRO and reading wikis), with various celebrations culminating in toasting “The Professor” at 9:00 pm your local time. I cut a piece of pie for myself (peanut butter pie isn’t very Hobbity, but it’s what I had on hand) and logged into LotRO to celebrate. I had no particular plan, so I did my Yule dailies on the Legendary server and then started puttering around Bree. That’s when I heard music coming from the stage across the street from the Prancing Pony. It was a little Tolkien Day party, with a three piece band in matching outfits and maybe a dozen humans, hobbits, dwarves, and elves gathered around enjoying it. I only caught the end, but they were doing a rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas with a “singer” /saying some fun Lord of the Rings-themed lyrics. At 9:00, they handed out free beer and toasted The Professor, and thanked him for creating an incredible world that lives on beyond him and which we now virtually inhabit.

There were bigger parties (I saw a video of a particularly big one on Landroval). I, and anyone else there, could have gone there and had a bigger community experience. The musicians could have gotten way more exposure for their guild there. But they didn’t. I like to think that it’s because they think of Arnor as their home community now, and they wanted to celebrate with them. It’s kind of how I view LotRO; there are plenty of bigger, flashier, newer MMOs out there, but I like LotRO because you don’t get experiences like that in just any game. And these weren’t “influencers” asking you to like and subscribe and follow and whatever else so they could get your ad revenue. They were just random players doing something cool for random players like me who happened to wander by.

In short, I love this game and its community, and I need to play more.

Gaming Resolutions For 2019

It’s that time of year again where everyone is making their New Year’s Resolutions! Here are a few of mine, in the realm of gaming at least.

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I just can’t justify the cost of 4K.
Sorry, I had to get that out of the way.

Play More Lord of the Rings Online
I love LotRO. Every time I log in I wish I was playing more often. Yet sometimes it’s hard to get myself to log in. I don’t know how to explain it. And it happened again with the Legendary server; I started off strong, logging in almost every day, and then I fizzled out in December. I want to find a way to motivate myself to log in every day again, and get to 50 before Moria hits. Maybe start work on an alt?
Also, there’s always that looming anxiety that LotRO might not be there much longer. While I feel more confident about LotRO’s future now than at the beginning of the year, with legendary servers bringing back a bunch of players, lately Daybreak has been killing everything it touches. It’s still unclear what exactly the relationship is between Standing Stone Games and Daybreak, but it’s enough to make me nervous.

Spend Some Time In Elder Scrolls Online’s Housing
I love housing systems, but I feel like I always put off actually doing anything in them. Logging into WildStar (may it rest in piece) to get screenshots before the shutdown reminded me of all the grand plans I had for my various houses, and how little I actually got done. I’m starting to get decently well established in ESO, and I have some ideas for a few houses that I’d like to start working on.

Play More Group Content
I’m pretty comfortable playing MMOs solo or duo with my wife. That’s great, and I don’t have a problem with it, but I’d like to start getting into dungeons more. After all, why play a massively multiplayer game, join a guild, etc. if you’re going to play alone? Ok, there are a lot of really good reasons, but the point is, I’d like to start doing dungeons (and possibly larger group content?) more often in ESO, LotRO, and whatever other MMOs the new year brings. I really enjoyed tanking some dungeons during ESO’s Undaunted event (despite the buggy/overloaded group finder), and I’ve had the itch to do some healing again as well.

Publish A Game
I tend to start a lot of game dev projects and not finish them, and lately I’ve been thinking about why. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I’ve been hearing this advice for years now that you should “make the kind of game you’d like to play.” The problem is that the kind of game I like to play is large in scope, deep in complexity, and rich in story. That’s why I play so many MMOs and RPGs. But my first published game (created by, at most, me and two or three friends) just isn’t going to be any of those things. Maybe one of them at best. I think I need to lower my personal expectations to making a game that I wouldn’t pay more than five dollars for. That’s not settling, that’s walking before I run. I don’t need to be Pixel or Notch or ConcernedApe or any number of other developers whose first published game was a labor of love masterpiece.

LotRO: Life On the Legendary Server

I’ve never gotten into the whole progression server thing. I guess you could count Old School RuneScape, which is an odd sort of progression server that progresses in a different direction than the original game did. But other than that, I don’t usually sit around thinking “Man, I miss the days before this game had so many quality of life improvements.” But one game that I’ve always regretted not getting into earlier is Lord of the Rings Online. I’ve always been way behind the pack in LotRO, and its player base isn’t quite big enough that it has a critical mass of people playing low-to-mid levels that I can group with. So I’m basically stuck playing solo until I reach cap, and I always get burned out before I do. That’s why I was excited by the idea of the LotRO Legendary Server. It’s kind of a cheap version of a progression server; all of the current updates, class mechanics, and newer classes/race are there, but expansion levels will be unlocked every four months. I’m pretty happy with that setup, though I do miss skirmishes and all of the easy cosmetics that come with them.

A lot of people are asking what the point of this server is and who this server is for. It’s true, there’s not a ton here you couldn’t just do by just rolling up a new character on a new server and not doing anything to help yourself out. Some people are already doing that. But for me, this is an excuse for a larger community to reroll and progress at the same time. It’s for people like me who didn’t play the game at launch and want to play level 50 or 60 dungeons as they were designed, and not by getting carried by people twice the level it was designed for.

Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, but I thought the announcement of the launch date was rather sudden. I was expecting it to pop up late this month or maybe next month, and so when the date was announced less than a week before the launch, I had already spent all of my gaming budget. The logical half of my brain told me that I had already spent my budget on the special edition of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and that I shouldn’t overspend, and, besides, next month I’ll be playing the crap out of the new Super Smash Bros. and probably won’t even make it to cap anyway. The fun half of my brain said that I’ve been wanting an excuse to get back into LotRO, this is probably the last opportunity I’ll have to be part of a community leveling experience in this game. The day may come when I listen to the logical half of my brain when it comes to LotRO, but it is not this day.

So a new hobbit warden named Isnan was born. I’ve always wanted to level a warden, as it seems like a really fun and rewarding class, but it’s so complex that I know I won’t know what I’m doing if I don’t devote myself to it for a while, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I’ve been having a blast so far. There are so many people in The Shire and Bree-Land! I love it! I spent pretty much the whole weekend in Middle-Earth, which is something that I very much needed. I thought the 40% slower pace of questing would be annoying, but at least a low levels, I haven’t really thought about it. I’ve still had plenty of XP to get through the whole Shire without having to farm. Well, I did some actual farming because I’m a cook, but not the “mindlessly killing mobs for XP” kind. I love the flow of the hobbit story, starting out wandering around the shire, delivering mail and pies and keeping bears away from honey. Best of all, the way the game transitions you back to the reality of the threats from Mordor is that a hobbit thinks she’s seen the ghost of Golfimbul (for whom, as everyone knows, the game of golf is named), and in the process of investigating you wind up stopping a legit goblin invasion force. The rangers, of course, are having none of that, and you end up running the message to Strider in Bree and getting mixed up in this whole quest to save the world. I’m amazed all over again with what a great job Turbine/Standing Stone has done adapting the world of The Lord of the Rings to game form and weaving the player into the story without making them Frodo Jr.

I’ll see you around the Arnor server! Feel free to PM Isnan and say hullo!