To be honest, the first couple of Moria trophies to come my way have been a bit of a disappointment - certainly not a patch on the Shadows of Angmar trophies. The Fire Orc Banner drops from the Fire Orc boss in the Grand Stairs instance, and Morhun's Gemstone from the final boss in the Treasury instance. Neither are exactly earth-shaking: the banner looks a bit like a traffic bollard, while Morhun's Gemstone reminds me of nothing so much as a fancy bell-push (it also underlines the inanity of hooks in housing: once in place, it stands in solitary splendour on that stretch of wall, to which nothing else can be added).
Hopefully, things will improve, but at the moment, it looks as though so much imagination went into designing Moria, there was none left over for the trophies...
Thursday, 11 December 2008
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Mines of Moria, the long-awaited Volume II of Lords of the Ring Online, has been up and running long enough by now for us to get over the original high, take a couple of steps back and evaluate it as calmly as possible… First of all, there can be no doubts at all about the graphic design: this is by far the most impressive game environment I have ever seen. For once, the pre-launch hype didn’t lie. The Mines of Moria are breathtakingly grandiose and wonderfully imaginative; I almost wish I had a l.70 character whom I could take for a leisurely tour of the whole region, unbothered by orcs, goblins and other such irritants.
Unfortunately, for the first couple of weeks many of us couldn’t properly experience the game’s glories at anything better than the “low” graphics setting, since the huge numbers of players gathered in Moria, particularly at choke points such as the Deep Delving and the 21st Hall, slowed all servers down to a crawl or worse… Fortunately, measures seem to have been taken with the latest patch, and the situation is noticeably better - but it still isn’t advisable to log out in the 21st Hall, since coming fully back online could take minutes.
The success of Moria itself shouldn’t blind players to the less dramatic but still very effective design of Eregion, the region leading to the mines; once again the designers have come up with a wholly successful concept for a semi-desolate no-man’s-land, this time with the emphasis on eroded hillsides, boulder-strewn plains and dried-up riverbeds. Kudos also to those responsible for the final instance of Volume I, namely Book 15, chapter 12, to my mind perhaps the single most effective episode of the game so far, combining as it does a very tough fight, an extended follow-up and some very strong plot elements. Many (perhaps most) players skipped this entirely in their rush to enter Moria, and they would be well advised to go back and try it; if nothing else, a successfully completed instance presents players with the single best reward to date. Also highly recommended are the School and Library sequence of 3-player fellowship quests near Mirobel.
All in all, Mines of Moria has proved that it is possible to make a good game substantially better, and Turbine fully deserve the increase in player base which this upgrade has undoubtedly provoked.
Saturday, 15 November 2008
Very much at the eleventh hour, though of course better late than never, Codemasters have announced that Mines of Moria can now, as of November 15th, be purchased online. Go to http://community.codemasters.com/forum/showthread.php?p=4656514#post4656514 for details.
Friday, 14 November 2008
Poor old Codemasters! It really does look as though they need somebody new in charge of sales and distribution (or perhaps, just somebody in charge?)...
With the LOTRO community in a feeding frenzy over the coming of Mines of Moria, rather more than the usual distribution problems are cropping up - yet again. For instance, as of today, it looks as though anybody who pre-ordered from Amazon, and particularly from Amazon.uk, will have cancelled their orders. Why? According to the official Amazon response one anxious purchaser posted on the forums, "Sometimes unexpected fluctuations in supply can add time to our original availability estimate. We have learned that "The Lord of the Rings: Mines of Moria - Compendium" is now back-ordered and we now hope that your order will be delivered by early December 2008". December? You have got to be joking - this is a client base which develops acute anxiety attacks if its update is more than twelve hours late, and you expect it to wait patiently for two to three weeks for the game's first major expansion? Get real, Amazon... and by the way, Codemasters, why doesn't a major distributor like Amazon have sufficient stocks on hand, eh?
More serious, if only because failure here is utterly inexplicable, is the whole question of downloading the game (or rather, just the game key) online. This would be fast, practical, cheap and far more environmentally efficient than posting large cardboard boxes full of assorted land-fill fodder around the globe. It could also be implemented by a twelve-year old with an internet site, access to a decent server and a PayPal account. Online availability becomes particularly important when retail purchase is not an option - and according to forum posters, most games retail outlets across Europe are not and will not be stocking Mines of Moria (why they won't is another issue entirely - incentives, anyone?).
So it was a relief to find that on Codemaster's own e-commerce site, MoM could in fact be purchased for download - as it says, above, "ALSO AVAILABLE ON PC DOWNLOAD". Except that it isn't, because clicking on that little promise takes you to the second screen image above - the one that says "No Results". Yes, you can't get there from here, and we don't do that sort of thing in this company, no sir!
Maybe, just maybe, it's time for Codemasters to hire a marketing manager? I can recommend a smart, savvy twelve-year old who lives just down the street from here...
Saturday, 8 November 2008
silvan (sylvan), adjective
- Etymology: Medieval Latin silvanus, sylvanus, from Latin silva, sylva wood1 a: living or located in the woods or forest
1 b: of, relating to, or characteristic of the woods or forest
2 a: made, shaped, or formed of woods or trees
2 b: abounding in woods, groves, or trees
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
As MoM creeps closer and closer on little cat feet, insecurity and uncertainty haunt the sleep of many veterans of Angmar’s campaigns. “What”, they want to know, “is to become of our precious, paid-for-in-blood-and-sweat (not to mention hours and hours slaving over a hot keyboard) complete suits of Rift armour? Must they be tossed on the rubbish heap, unloved and unregarded, or sold for a mere handful of copper pennies? How will we protect ourselves against the perils of the Mines?”.
Relax. First of all, Rift-quality armour isn’t suddenly going to turn into soggy cardboard overnight; it will certainly provide adequate protection in Eriador, while we gather together the next set, with its improved protections. “But what”, some will answer, “of its patina, its associations, its many memories? Are you so blind to history?”. Well, it has now been confirmed that pre-MoM items, no matter how rare, cannot be be broken up to boost legendary weapons, so that particular retirement plan is no longer an option. Personally, I plan to hang on to mine, in the (hopefully not vain) expectation that Turbine will sooner or later recognise its folly in instituting a hook system for housing, and replace it with a grid or free system allowing players to place anything they want anywhere in their homes. There have been faint, elfin hints that something of the sort is planned for the not-too-distant future – perhaps a couple of books into MoM. Then, assuming that Turbine can also provide me with a simple armour stand, I propose to display the whole outfit, hideous shoulder pads included, in some corner of the snug. Ah, the memories…
Sunday, 26 October 2008
I suspect that the design success of the three Battleground Instances has gone largely unappreciated and unnoticed, buried to some extent beneath the grumbling about the poor drop rate of the chest rewards and the silly linking of the three, whereby Rhunendin cannot be accessed until the first two have been completed at least 20 times each – which might be OK, if the whole sequence didn’t keep resetting at unknown intervals.
Anyway, I would be happy with these instances even without any rewards; they are fast (average time for a good team should be 30’, 35’ and 60’ respectively), increasingly challenging and place a premium on tactical thinking. Indeed, I would argue that they are perhaps the first instances in the entire game to require true tactical thought (Annuminas perhaps excepted). Both Helegrod and above all the Rift have a steep learning curve and demand experience, careful timing, discipline and a very precise sequence of moves by the raiders – but these are not purely tactical considerations. Rather, they require raiders to have knowledge of often very particular circumstances, and act accordingly; you have to know what happens in specific cases (for example, what happens when Barz shouts “I’ll gnaw your bones!”), and your options are thereafter very limited indeed.
On the other hand, the Battlegrounds present players with an essentially tactical challenge: you must defend, or defend and attack, often simultaneously and with limited forces, and all against the clock. There are several ways of achieving this, depending on the makeup of the fellowship, and all have a chance of success; and you can and indeed must vary your tactics as the logistical situation changes. There are clear trade-offs: you can play safe at the probable expense of speed, you can balance the (eventually critical) loss of NPCs against a faster rate of enemy attrition (i.e., you gamble on killing them faster than they can kill you), you can form a weak defence and a strong offence team, or vice-versa.
Whoever was behind the design of the little gems, I very much hope we’ll encounter more of their work in MoM.
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
Three weeks, more or less, till Mines of Moria is released. Turbine have been very clever about building up expectations, releasing little bits of information here, dropping hints in dev chat there, and generally winding everybody up. It helps, of course, that by all accounts vol.2 of the LOTRO saga will include a mind-blowing amount of content - almost enough to qualify as a brand new game.
In the meantime, we are all - particularly us grizzled level 50 veterans of countless battles with Thorog and Thaurlach - marking time. Useful (and even less useful) traits have been long-since maxed, our complete sets of Rift armour are showing the ravages of time and combat, we peacock about in all-teal splendour and try to occupy our time as constructively as possible. Those who enjoy that sort of thing struggle to reach the dizzy heights of rank 8 in the Ettenmoors, the obsessive collectors amongst us are well on the way of acquiring one of each of the boss trophies (I have all but the two skulls), fishermen curse and spit at the seeming impossibility of ever completing the fishing deeds, while tacticians plot and plan how best to conquer the Rift with a six-man raid, or Hellegrod with a mere dozen.
There is of course always the time-honoured occupation of building up alts, and many players are doing just that - some of them, indeed, creating entire families. Personally, I've always found the idea of alts oddly schizophrenic, but to each his own. I'll be working on taking down Thaurlach with a five-man team of Hunters on skateboards - that should fill in the time nicely till MoM turns up and we have to understand exactly how the legendary weapons system is supposed to work...
Monday, 15 September 2008
Whether officially or unofficially, a number of interesting screen shots from the Mines of Moria beta have appeared on www.lotrolife.com. Things in beta are always subject to possible change, but nevertheless, some useful hard facts can be deduced from these images.
Player mounts in MoM will be, yes, mountain goats. It can now be confirmed that not only will the game’s Pony Express service (sorry, Goat Express) be equipped with them, but it will be possible to purchase one as well, albeit after some considerable time. To acquire a Redhorn Goat you will have to have reached Friend Standing with the Iron Garrison Miners, while the faster Nimble Redhorn requires Kindred Standing (both going for 6G, 24S).
Incidentally, the enemy will have access to mounts as well – in their case, fighting mounts. Moria Warg-Riders are a formidable-looking skeleton-giant warg combo.
Hunters will continue to have an edge in the taxi profession in MoM, but once again, it may take some time to acquire the relevant skills. At l.56, for instance, Hunters can purchase the ability to “swiftly travel to the Twenty-First Hall of Moria”, taking a party with them. Wardens, on the other hand, can also acquire a corresponding skill at l.56, but can only travel solo.
I have long suspected that in-game finance will suddenly become important again with MoM, partly simply through inflation, but also because the various procedures associated with identifying and manipulating legendary items may well incur (probably high) charges. Certainly the first assumption appears correct: Tomes necessary for the acquisition of various Traits appear to be on offer for 2G, 500S. Various other items on sale at faction shops appear to be priced up to twenty times higher than their current equivalents.
Judging by the example above, the MoM screens will be considerably better drawn than the weirdly distorted and downright ugly images we have put up with so far – think of the current Rivendell loading screen, with its dwarfish and club-handed Legolas.
Thursday, 28 August 2008
This is a very large (17,000 x 8,500 pixel) composite photomosaic map of East Angmar, from Garth Fornir to Carn Dum and Urugarth inclusive. It is in the form of a 32.5 MB JPEG file; once downloaded, it can be overwritten, printed, viewed onscreen and so forth.
You can download it from this link: http://rapidshare.com/files/140723301/Carn_Dum.jpg. Even if you don't have a Rapidshare account, it can be downloaded for free after a 30-second wait. Personally, I found it very helpful both for navigating and as a way of getting a sense of how the various parts of this very complex area relate to one another.
Wednesday, 27 August 2008
The barter economy of Middle-Earth is becoming extremely complex. Barter items now include Battered Arnorian Armour (BAA), Vile Bronze and Silver Coins, Rift Coins, Marks of Triumph (MoT) from the repeatable epic instances, Marks of Victory (MoV) from the battleground instances, and of course Luminous Stones from the Delvings of Fror in the Ettenmoors.
All of these can only be bartered for specific items as follows:
BAA = Annuminas armour
Vile Coins = Angmar armour
Rift-iron Coins = second-rank Rift armour
Fror stones = Ettens armour
MoV = teal jewellery or a gamble on the chests
MoT = various
The interesting items here are the MoT, which are the closest thing LOTRO has to a universal barter “currency”; they can be used to acquire any of either Helegrod, Annuminas or Angmar armour (respectively priced at 30, 16 and 8 MoT per item). However, they can also be exchanged for Annuminas or Angmar barter items at a rate of 2 MoT for one Vile Silver Coin or one BAA; unfortunately, the reverse isn’t true – you can’t hand over a Vile Silver Coin and receive two MoT.
It’s hard to say why, and it’s a pity the developers didn’t take the plunge and make MoT a true universal barter item. If they had, players would be able to consolidate all the barter items acquired from various quests and instances (including perhaps even Helegrod barter items) and convert them into whichever barter currency they prefered. Instead, many players are lumbered with a variety of barter items which take up precious storage slots, none of them in sufficient quantities to trade in.
Wednesday, 6 August 2008
A couple of months back, I was complaining about the fact that players are not given access to an ongoing narrative of the epic quest as they move through the various books. Well, it still hasn't been implemented in-game, but player Brunop in Slovakia has finally provided one in the form of an 87-page, 450 KB Acrobat file which covers Books 1-14 inclusive. The text includes the exact wording of every epic quest and instance, as well as details of the objective(s) and background, all patiently copied from the quest logs.
Here is an example from Book II:
CHAPTER 7: THE STONE SPEAKER
Radagast wants to learn what drew a creature such as Ivar to the Red Swamp. He thinks that something could be learned from one of the Eglain. 'This land was the site of many battles in the past. Some say the swamp takes its name from the blood of fallen Men that stains the earth red. But my knowledge of the swamp's history is limited. 'I do know of a man named Aric, a wise man of the Eglain, though only by reputation. He is a Stone-speaker, a scholar who studies the stones and collects knowledge from their markings. Aric knows much of the local lore. 'Travel to him and ask for his help. He currently dwells south of here, beyond Talath Gaun, down in Harloeg. He may provide us with the knowledge we seek.'
Aric is south of Ost Guruth, beyond Talath Gaun, down in Harloeg. Radagast spoke of a man named Aric the Stone-speaker. Aric may be able to tell you the history of the Red Swamp.
This is not yet literature - it would need some cutting and editing for that - but it reads perfectly coherently, and will remind players of all their troubles and travails during the last year and a half of traveling and questing. Savvy players will no doubt also realise what a help this will be in choosing which of the epic quests to repeat in order to gain Marks of Triumph.
It's amazing to realise that something as useful as this had to be produced by a player... You can download it in seconds from http://www.4shared.com/file/57890330/1495bf19/Lotro-EpicStory.html
Saturday, 2 August 2008
The Angamarim forces currently holding Annuminas are showing signs of serous defeatism, if not worse. How else would you explain the fact that immediately upon coming under attack, an Angamarim captain might cry out "This will be no easy defeat!" - thus implicitly conceding that he is, indeed, facing certain defeat. Equally defeatist are the ejaculations "My life for the glory of Angmar", or the plaintive "Annuminas was to be our glory...". Angmar's secret police should also be worried about the widespread use of "I do not... understand" by dying Angmarim, as this indicates a high level of mistrust of High Command and a lack of awareness of the Witch King's long-term policies.
This is no way to run an army of invasion. A Roman legion showing this degree of demoralisation would have been decimated, and as for Soviet troops on the Eastern Front - why, the KGB would have shot all the officers and condemned the men to service in the punitive battalions. Angmar's KGB equivalent needs to get on their case...
Monday, 28 July 2008
The appearance of new content usually provokes rumbles in the LOTRO economy, and Book 14 has been no exception. One major new factor has been the ring lore quests - 70,000 of them per server before the gates to Eregion are opened. Each of the 70,000 quests is rewarded with a chest containing a item of some kind; these range from second-tier rep items all the way up to (or so rumour, or a single post on the Codemasters forum would suggest) a Helchgam's slime - one example of which was sold on the AH about a month ago for 20G. Don't hold your breath, though.
The vast majority of rewards are third-tier rep items, and this has definitely impacted on their price in the AH. Luistins (Lossoth rep items) which were selling for up to 475s in early July are now averaging 150s, and War Dispatches are down to around 300s from 450s. In general, the best-selling rep items are still those for the tougher or more useful factions, namely Lossoth, Council of the North and Elves of Rivendell, and while the price of these has all dropped, the demand is still there.
Interestingly, though Beryl Shards are now dropping (though not very often) from more mobs than before, the price of this perennial market indicator has remained surprisingly firm throughout July, and still averages about 750s. Exceptional Hides, most easily farmed in Forochel, are also maintaining their price, averaging about 400s for fifty.
Slightly more recipes seem to be dropping from mobs. Though down by about 25% on a couple of months ago, top prices can still be achieved by recipes for polished weapons and engraved beryl jewelery; recent examples were 1G, 500s for a Polished Ancient Steel Dagger recipe, and 2G, 100s for an Engraved Beryl Earring recipe. The new woodworking recipes and scholar's dye recipes are also in demand at the moment, but the market for the commoner recipes, including many that are single-use, has sagged badly.
Sunday, 27 July 2008
Legendary items have made their first appearance with Book 14. So far, we have seen items in four categories: “Common” (usually grey icons), “Uncommon” (green icons), “Rare” (purple icons) and “Incomparable” (teal icons). The colour coding has not been entirely uniform, since a number of items such as trophies and components don’t always follow the rules, but it is usually valid for armour, weapons and jewellery. It is worth noting that there has been some confusion in the past over the precise character of “Legendary” items; for example, the LOTRO online database MMODB includes a long list of Legendary items which are in fact only Incomparable (teal).
It is now confirmed that the icons for true Legendary items will have a gold (or deep yellow) background to their icons. So far, four Legendary items have surfaced, but disappointingly, they turn out to be nothing more than re-classified Balrog drops: a necklace, an earring, a pocket item and the Wig-feld cloak. The three items of jewellery are good but not stunning, and depending on your class, they may or may not be an improvement on the best teals; Wig-feld is probably the finest general-purpose cloak available to date. All four of these drops are rare to extremely rare.
Saturday, 5 July 2008
One of the best things about LOTRO is the way in which the designers have lavished care and imagination on all aspects of the world, not just the ones directly implicated in moving the plot forward; this means that the more adventurous players - the ones who take pleasure in exploring Middle-Earth, rather than just running a race with themselves - are constantly coming across interesting scenes and arresting details.
This giant statue of an Arnorian king, half-drowned in the waters of Lake Evendim, can be found in the warren of submerged docks and streets in the south-west corner of Annuminas, in the shadow of the island fortress; the area is clear of Angmarim patrols and there are no material rewards to be found there, but it is one of the game's more magical spots, particularly by moonlight.
Thursday, 26 June 2008
Shorn of verbiage, bad jokes and waffle, here is the gist of the information released during the latest Dev Chat session. Probably more hard information percolated through on this occasion that is usual in these sessions.
NEW REGIONS IN BOOK 14
Book 14 has little in terms of new playable landscape for players to explore. We are introducing a small portion of Eregion to support our epic story but mostly the efforts of the World Team for Book 14 settled firmly in the realm of bug fixing.
NEW INSTANCES IN BOOK 14
Q: Where will the new 6 man instances take place and what size will they be?
A: They will take place in... familiar locations. As for scope, I designed them to be pretty quick, a 1/2 hour to an hour, but unpredictable and a bit random. Let's just say, you haven't seen any instances like this in LOTRO before.
NEW SCHOLAR RECIPES IN BOOK 14
There are a number of new scholar recipes coming online in book 14 - some for potions, others for new dyes and wall colours for your home, improved battle lore scrolls, and one-use recipes that allow you to make items that will be very handy for other professions.
THE RAIDING BUG
Q: Will the infamous raid vitals bug that is afflicting European LotRO players be fixed in time for Mines of Moria?
A: I have been told that the Raid vital bug has been fixed for Book 14. Or so they tell me!
ANUMINAS & OTHER ARMOUR SETS
There are new armour sets in book 14 and the Annuminas armour set has seen a very good upgrade. Additionally, helegrod has been changed over to use bartering.
UNSPECIFIED BOOK 14 CHANGES
I'm pretty excited about Book 14. I got to create something for this update that I have never done before, and we have never seen in LOTRO before. I am going to be REALLY vague about exactly what is coming, but let's just say I'm trying to make the story much more important to everyone in the game, not just those of high level.
SKILL COOLDOWN & WEAPON SPEED
Q: I have a game mechanics-related question. This has been discussed both recently and in the past, and even the lorebook gives contradictory information on this. Basically, are skill cooldowns affected by weapon speed or are those solely dependent on skills? If so, is there any other use for weapon speed besides seeing what your auto-attack cycle speed is?
A: Individual skill cooldowns are not affected by weapon speed, only the time before you can next execute subsequent skills. Attack with a fast weapon and you have to wait less time after that skill is done before your next skill will start. Some skills are designed to ignore the weapon speed related timer, but those are usually quite special and built [to?] allow a faster response.
MORIA: NEW MOUNTS
Any new mount variations made available between now and Moria will mostly be saddle and color variations. However, we have a region coming up (you may have heard of of it) that ponies (and assumedly horses as well) dare not tread. This means that something new is coming.
MORIA: WARDEN & RUNE-KEEPER CLASSES
The Warden is a more "tank-y" class and is a master of marital combat, and must strike his blows in such a way to best finish off his enemies. The Rune-keeper is a master of words, and uses those to either damage his enemies or inspire his allies.
Thursday, 19 June 2008
This is an (almost?) complete set of the best projectile weapons in LOTRO as of Book 13, drawn from my priceless collection. Cudur, Bane of Forvengwath and Fortified Black Ash Bow are clearly the best available. I normally have Cudur equipped, and carry the other two in my pack. Cudur becomes available after you reach Rank 4 with the Free Peoples in the Ettenmoors; it costs 3 Luminous Spirit Stones and a further quantity of Glimmering and Dull stones, all of which can either be found in the Delvings of Fror or purchased at the AH. It should be possible to achieve Rank 4 after 2-3 days fighting in the Ettens.
Bane of Forvengwath drops from the first Gatekeeper in Balad Gularan; unfortunately it seems to be fairly rare drop; on the plus side, he isn't that hard to down, and a determined fellowship could farm him. Fortified Black Ash Bow is of course a crafted item. Bow of Keria is a reward item for completing Book 13, and therefore quite achievable for a l.46 or so player. Bow of the Hunt is the reward item for completing the Hunter class quest; it's a nice bow, but usually, by the time most Hunters complete the quest, they will be close to getting something better.
The crossbow Nathfeig, another Barad Gularan drop, is useful to keep around when going after dragon kind (+7), which includes all the worms. Gautar's Ironwork Crossbow (an Angmar/Myrkworth drop) is the best I've been able to come up with as far as dealing out ancient dwarf-make damage is concerned, but there may be something better out there. Finally, Tongannel's Joy is a reward for the Trollshaws quest "Cause for Joy" which comes in very handy when you're in the mid-40s, and was my favourite bow for a long time.
Sunday, 15 June 2008
Down an obscure dead-end, at the far western end of Imlad Balchorth, travelers fleeing perhaps from the evil wights and spirits which infest the land might stumble upon this awesome waterfall of poisonous water crashing down from Urugarth - the source of the lethal pools and lakes which are such a hazard of the area. Interestingly, the gates to the left appear to be a back-door into Urugarth itself - locked, alas, at least for the moment.
Saturday, 14 June 2008
The next two to three months will likely prove important to the future of LOTRO. I'm assuming that Mines of Moria will not be released until September at the very earliest, with October being much likelier and even November an unlovely possibility. In the meantime, the game has been hit by an unfortunate combination of three factors; any one of the three alone could easily be shrugged off, but it's bad luck (and some bad management) that they should have hit simultaneously.
The first is simply seasonal. In the summer people go away on holidays (usually quite long ones if they happen to be Europeans), the days are longer, outdoor pursuits beckon, parents, significant others and spouses become even less understanding than in the darker days of winter and, what with one thing and another, most people spend significantly less time playing computer games. For the same reasons, people also buy fewer new games, which in turn leads to a small but significant drop in new players.
The second is the arrival of Age of Conan which, whatever its virtues or vices, has attracted a number of LOTRO players simply on the basis of novelty value. Some of them will stay with AoC, some are playing both games and most of them will, I suspect, drift back to LOTRO when the glitz has worn off. In the meantime, however, that represents another drop in activity.
Finally (and this is where bad management comes in), no matter what goodies Book 14 or, most likely, Mines of Moria eventually brings, it was a bad idea not to provide LOTRO players with some new raiding opportunities at the beginning of the summer. I know, I know, raids are not the be-all and end-all of online gaming. The point is, LOTRO is now 15 months old, and includes just two sets of raids, Helegrod and the Rift; this is plainly not enough. Most serious players have completed both raid sequences several times; in the case of the Rift, maybe even dozens of times in order to acquire complete armour sets. The result is that boredom is beginning to set in.
Consider: most average keen players probably hit the l.50 cap around Christmas time, so while they will have completed many of the new Forochel quests out curiosity, quests are simply never as interesting if you can't get experience from them. On the other hand, there are only so many times you can repeat the Rift raid chain, and once you have completed your set, it all becomes increasingly tedious (I know that if I have to face Barz one more time, I shall cut my own throat). Helegrod offers a more varied and interesting environment, but to be honest, how many kinships can rustle up 24 reasonably competent players often enough to make Helegrod adventuring accessible on a regular basis? A new 12-man raid coming out at the same time as Book 13 would have been an intelligent marketing move, particularly as the arrival of AoC was a known factor. I sometimes wonder whether the Delvings of Fror in the Ettenmoors may not perhaps have started out life as a potential raid venue which got side-tracked...
On balance, none of the above will in my view be enough to hold back LOTRO in the medium to long term, given its core client base of Tolkien fans and the very real positive aspects of the game (in a nutshell: looks, plot and updates), but it promises to be a slowish sort of summer... unless, of course, Codemasters choose to surprise us all.
Sunday, 1 June 2008
A formal portrait by Cornelius van Nackerling of Staddle, in the finest "Bree interior" style, of a collector surrounded by his trophies. Cornelius van Nackerling was highly regarded above all for his skill in rendering the effects of candle and fire-light on difficult materials such as velvet, silk, the steel of weapons and the fur of animal trophies. This particularly fine example of his late period goes on sale at the Bree Auction Houses in a week's time, starting price 200 gold.
Saturday, 31 May 2008
This terrifying disembodied arm creeps around the approaches to central Imlad Balchorth. Despite its fearsome appearance, however, it is shy and retiring by disposition, and if challenged by a determined enemy (such as the formidable Western Alliance fellowship depicted in the image above) it will display a distressing tendency to leg it towards the nearest empty crypt...
Tuesday, 20 May 2008
For me, one of the most important aspects of LOTRO is the epic story line. It's one of the things that make LOTRO different from other MMORPGs - a developing plot in which players have an active role, giving them a real sense that the game world they are immersed in is dynamic rather than static. Of course, some books are better than others. Book 13 proved disappointing, as it mostly reduced the player to a hapless gofer: "Gofer this, now gofer that, then come back all the way round the bay and back here so that I can ask you to gofer something else that I forgot to mention the first time round...". In the main, however, the epic story line has produced some of the best moments in the game.
Problem is, I can't remember the half of it. I know, I could go through the completed epic quests one by one in the quest window and reconstruct the whole thing, but that would be really tedious, and wouldn't produce anything like a coherent narrative. I think the developers have missed an opportunity here. Why not have a book among your possessions which would include, chapter by chapter, a complete record of the epic plot line to date? In time, the chapters would become the chronicle of an alternate History of the War of the Ring, one running parallel to that of Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring, whose protagonist would be the player.
It would be easy enough to implement - for one thing, except for the very early sections, the chronicle would be the same for everybody - and a hardly noticeable drain on server memory. Lots of of CRPGs have a variant of the system, with the best by far being that used by the last two volumes of the "Elder Scrolls". Check it out, please, devs.
Wednesday, 7 May 2008
One of the most impressive atmospheric effects players discovered in their exploration of Forochel was the thick, grey-green fog blanketing the system of ice caverns leading NW from the first settlement. It became more impressive as we groped our way out of the tunnels and moved, very hesitantly, towards the shores of the Bay of Forochel; indeed, a number of us actually stumbled into the lethal, ice-cold waters by mistake. Would the entire region, we wondered, have to be explored in near-obscurity?
It was even more of a shock when some of us ported home to Bree or the Shire, only to find that the fog had traveled with us... Turns out it was a bug, as a Codemasters representative hurried to point out in the forums: "We are currently investigating this issue. This seems to be related to the dayfile override we've employed in the landscape tunnel between Taur Orthon and the tundras in central Forochel. It is not intended that you drag the gloom with you once you leave that space. Relogging will cause the effect to go away - in case it is making your play experience.. well... unplayable".
The real surprise, however, was to discover that far from howling the house down or throwing those all-too-familiar tantrums, the great majority of posters actually quite liked the effect - at least, in moderation. "Serendipity" posted an enthusiastic and very positive response: "What a shame this is a bug, I thought it made the atmosphere the coldest I'd ever experienced in a videogame. Icy wastelands that look like Disney made them - NO. Icy wastelands where you can get lost, get monsters jump out at you, feel disorientated and unsafe - YES. I thought I'd never seen atmosphere used to such good effect in barren dangerous lands. Heck, all the quest dialogues go on about how treacherous the land is. In real life, mountains have mists that roll over and trap you before you can flee, they should be dangerous to traverse. If this is a bug, fix it so it's a weather effect".
Friday, 25 April 2008
As every LOTRO player in the world not actually in hibernation knows by now, Book 13 has been released in the USA in time for the game's first anniversary - but not in Europe. The results on the Codemasters forum have been explosive: by just before midnight (server time) on Thursday, the day on which most people expected the patch to be released, a thread on the subject had attracted a record 27,387 views as well as 425 responses - also an absolute record. More than a few people were pretty clearly upset.
At 7.30 pm, Satine came up with Codemasters' excuse: "... we will not be getting Book 13 tomorrow. And no, it's not because the localisation isn't done! We haven't yet received the "Release candidate" for testing therefore at the very earliest we'll get Book 13 onto the live servers will be late next week some time, but if we find anything wrong with it during testing, it'll be later still... Up until now we've prided ourselves in getting almost every update to you just one or two days after the US however on this occasion we haven't been able to do so".
Responses in the forum tended to divide between those calling down divine retribution on Codemasters and/or Turbine for not delivering at the (implied) time, and those who pointed out that there may even be advantages to showing a bit of patience; as "hitchhiker 54" remarked, "Think of it this way... The US get the patches first. They have since beta, which may seem unfair.... BUT (and this is my favorite bit) the US players find all those little bugs that get past test server! By the time we see the patch Turbine are already working on any issues. So... before another 'it's not fair' post goes up, please consider. Would you rather we did final beta test or have a couple of million Americans do it for us?"
Others were devastated, and didn't care who was to blame: "This really, really, really, really sucks!! I just have holiday, and hoped we'd get book 13 during my holiday, but it seems not...". By and large, however Turbine came in for heavy flack for treating Europe as as second-rate market, while for their part Codemasters got a fair bit of stick for, if nothing else, failing to keep their customers informed. "Buttercup", for instance, commented that "It looks like the blame is being placed firmly in Turbine's court for ignoring their European base in order to please the US market. Unsurprising, of course, but disappointed (in Turbine .. ) Nothing Codemasters can do with all the best will in the world if they aren't supported by Turbine...".
A PR disaster? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, memories are notoriously short, and if Book 13 fulfills expectations when it finally reaches these shores, all or or nearly all will be forgiven. And on the other, there is surely something in the sight of thousands of frustrated consumers screaming for their product which must make the hearts of profit-oriented business executives go pit-a-pat.
Tuesday, 22 April 2008
Shamelessly ninjaed from the US LOTRO forum boards, here is a preview of the next set of top weapons in the game. These are the selectable rewards for completing Chapter 11 of Book 13 (presumably the concluding chapter), so sadly no one character will be able to latch onto more than one of them...
They all cause lots of Beleriand damage (up to 96 for the two-handed sword), and all include between 1.5 and 3.0 in-combat power regeneration. They also come provided with assorted goodies for your class, including a handy +2% ranged critical chance for Hunters.
Thursday, 17 April 2008
It was a great relief to read in the patch notes for Book 13 that monster trophies are finally going to be rationalised. The current situation verged on the ridiculous, with a huge proliferation of nearly identical items, some of which were valuable in themselves, others were of use to craftsmen, while the majority were simply junk. We are blessed, for example, with no fewer than ten varieties of spider eye, all with identical icons: Small Spider Eye, Scarred Spider Eye, Huge Spider Eye, Blackened Spider Eye, Flawed Spider Eye, Dusky Spider Eye, Great Spider Eye, Monstrous Spider Eye, Grey Spider Eye, Dirty Spider Eye... Can you remember which of the ten is critical for the production of Fire Oil?
According to the notes, the change will definitely be for the better as far as crafting is concerned: "All of the recipes that utilize optional ingredients have been updated to use a new generic trophy item. If your recipe calls for the new “Tough Leg” trophy item you will be able to find that from 7 species located in all parts of Middle-earth". So that's all right then, particularly since the different kinds of Tough Legs will be stackable, irrespective of provenance, thus saving valuable pack space.
As ever, the Bard got it right the first time with his recipe:
"Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,--
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."
You will note that nothing is said about the eye of newt having to be Dusky, Black or Scarred...
Sunday, 13 April 2008
"BCamlost" started an interesting poll on the Codemaster forums a couple of days ago. The question was "What is the current level of the character you currently spend the majority of your LOTRO time playing? (i.e., NOT your 'main' if that main's retired, and not your 'alt' if you just happened to log it today for the first time in months . . .). One choice only please".
Of 201 players who responded by the morning of Sunday, a full 134 declare their principal character to be in the level 46-50 range, and there is good reason to believe that most of these are probably level 50. This amounts to 66.67% of the total; adding characters in the level 41-45 range, we find very nearly 80% of the respondents are above level 40. On the other hand, apparently less than 2% of the sample are under level 15. Does this mean that virtually no new players are joining the game? Of course not. As at least two players point out in the subsequent thread, what we have here is a good sampling of forum users, not of players as a whole. And as "Rem" sensibly notes, "Forums are a place where naturally long-time players hang out. This is not a representative cut through the player-base, it only shows what it shows - forum crowd tends to be high level".
So what conclusions can be derived from this poll? Essentially, that the hard core of dedicated players have (long since) hit the current experience cap, something that we probably knew already.
Full details on http://community.codemasters.com/forum/showthread.php?t=273029&page=2&pp=10
Thursday, 10 April 2008
Oddities of LOTRO, part XXVI: A Trapped Troll
This enraged (indeed, seriously pissed off) troll can be found lurking in a wooden shed in Carn Dum, along the road leading to the CD prisons; you're most likely to run into him while completing Book 12, on your way to kill twelve Poisoners and two Jailers. Don't worry, however; a level 10 hobbit armed with a sharp stick could (eventually) take him down, because no matter how furious he gets, he can't come out of his shed - he just stays there, roaring and lunging, but unless you get close to him, he can't do any damage.
Morale of the story: even trolls need to exercise and stay fit in order to reduce that unsightly chubbiness around the backside.
Monday, 7 April 2008
Loremasters and the wise already know something about Forochel, that mysterious region of eternal snow and ice to which LOTRO players are to gain access later this month. Much precious information about the region and its history can be gleaned from Appendix A of The Return of the King.
It was in Forochel that Arvedui Last-king, last of the Heirs of Isildur to reign over Arthedain, died in 1974. In that year "the power of Angmar arose again, and the Witch-king came down upon Arthedain before winter was ended. He captured Fornost, and drove most of the remaining Dunedain over the Lune... But King Arvedui held out upon the North Downs until the last, and then fled north with some of his guard... He was driven at last by hunger to seek the help of the Lossoth, the Snowmen of Forochel. Some of these he found in camp by the seashore; but they did not help the king willingly, for he had nothing to offer them, save a few jewels which they did not value; and they were afraid of the Witch-king...".
Of the Lossoth, we learn that "these are a strange, unfriendly people, remnant of the Forodwaith, Men of far-off days, accustomed to the bitter colds of the realm of Morgoth. Indeed those colds linger still in that region, though they lie hardly more than a hundred leagues north of the Shire. The Lossoth house in the snow, and it is said that they can run on the ice with bones on their feet, and have carts without wheels. They live mostly, inaccessible to their enemies, on the great Cape of Forochel that shuts off to the north-west the immense bay of that name; but they often camp on the south shores of the bay at the feet of the Mountains."
Arvedui and his few remaining men spent a bitter winter in Forochel, until at last Cirdan sent a great ship to rescue him. "But the winter was long in loosing its grip that year; and though it was then March, the ice was only beginning to break, and lay far out from the shore. When the Snowmen saw the ship they were amazed and afraid, for they had seen no such ship on the sea within their memories; but they had become now more friendly, and they drew the king and those that survived of his company out over the ice in their sliding carts, as far as they dared. In this way a boat from the ship was able to reach them."
Yet the Snowmen were afraid of the ship, and their chief counseled the King to wait until summer and return by land. Arvedui however ignored this wise advice, and insisted upon sailing; and before departing he gave the chief of the Lossoth his ring, saying "This is a thing of worth beyond your reckoning. For its ancientry alone. It has no power, save the esteem in which those hold it who love my house. It will not help you, but if ever you are in need, my kin will ransom it with great store of all that you desire." And as we know, a great storm arose, most probably due to the malice of the Witch-king, and the ship foundered with all hands upon the ice: "So perished Arvedui Last-king, and with him the palantiri were buried in the sea".
What does this foretell about Book 13? For one thing, it seems clear that Narchuil, which has been fruitlessly pursued across Evendim for so many months, is none other than the ring of Arvedui Last-king, and that unlike the palantir, it has not been lost beneath the waves. The epic story line will therefore deal with the recovery of Narchuil from the Lossoth, whether by hook or by crook. It may also be that the palantir will also play a role, since such powerful magical items have a way of reappearing mysteriously.
Dealing with the extreme cold of Forochel will also be a major factor in exploring the region. Three alternative ways of handling this suggest themselves: the use of potions (boring!), the purchase or gift of furs from the Snowmen (also boring), or the acquisition of furs through the hunting of elite polar beasts (much more interesting). It also seems likely that the Bay of Forochel will prove to be frozen solid, since swimming through such icy waters should normally prove fatal; of course, the developers may have opted to provide us with boats, but that seems rather less likely. Either way, get out your thermal winter underwear (now there is an interesting crafting item).
Friday, 4 April 2008
Time for another look at LOTRO's stock exchange, a.k.a. the Auction House prices. Overall, the signs are that the economy has slowed down somewhat since early February, a steady decline which the introduction of Book 12 did nothing to affect. That perennial economic indicator, the price of Beryl Shards, currently averages about 900 silver, down from just over one gold. Etched Beryl Rings, of which only a few are being offered, range from 12.5G to 15G, with no takers at any price, at least today.
The biggest price drop has affected exchange items from two of the major questing and raiding areas, the Rift and Anuminnas. Battered Arnorian Armour pieces are currently on offer for an average of 200 silver each (800S for 4 pieces, with a buyout of 1,200S), a full 50% down from the February price of 300S each. Rift-Iron Coins average 180S (one lot of four is currently on offer at a starting price 0f 725S with a scarcely larger buyout), again a large drop from an average price of 450-500S two months ago. Not surprising, really, as more and more players are venturing out into the Rift and gathering the coins for themselves - and also, of course, realising that there's not all that much they can exchange them for, anyway. I foresee Rift-Iron Coins hitting a new low of about 80S or so in less than a month. Meanwhile, the Laurelin AH does not offer so much as a sniff of Helegrod armour items at any price whatsoever. Now that would be a good short-term position to take...
Wednesday, 2 April 2008
This is the latest LOTRO loading screen from the States, downloaded from the American game forum. It seems pretty clear: Book 13, "Doom of the Last-King" is coming sometime later this month - most likely after 21 April. Looks as though Turbine is really getting its finger out...
Today, Codemasters released surprise details of The Battle of Amon-Hen, their exciting new update to LOTRO! This astonishing and completely unexpected sequel to chicken play introduces a new race which actually grows as you level up (see picture, above). New housing options allow the race of Fowl to purchase chicken coops, deluxe coops and kinship hen-houses after reaching level 12; these will apparently be large enough to allow all races of mixed kinships to enter and wander through freely.
Speculation abounds as to which skills Fowl are likely to be best at; despite the (possibly over the top) suggestion of massive, Guardian-style fighting chickens, it seems most likely they will turn out to be best at scouting and sneaking, possibly with a hint of nature magic at their disposal. Think burglar with extra peck...
It seems likely that at the time of release (unfortunately, no date has as yet been given), there will at last be an increase in the number of characters available to each account, as it is certain that the vast majority of players will want to create a Fowl character.
Thursday, 20 March 2008
Korrigan must be credited for discovering this excellent map of Middle-Earth, which apart from anything else makes the relationship of the various regions of Eriador accessible in the game much clearer. The map was produced by the brilliant young digital artist Jonatan Alvarsson; a visit to his website http://www.geckoartist.com/ is strongly recommended. Don't miss his trailer for an imaginary horror-adventure game, Alone.
It would be nice if Alvarsson could be talked into making a LOTRO-friendly version of his map, with all the extra locations added in...
LOTRO community officer Liquilla has posted a brief chat log of the LOTRO Roundtable chat with Jeffrey Steefel which took place at Connect on the Codemasters forum. Most of the answers are, as you would expect, of the blankly uninformative "we are aware of that issue and are giving it our most serious consideration" type, but one or two fragments of hard information still percolated through. In particular, the rumour of new mounts can now be laid safely to rest:
Q. Can you give us any information on the new mount? A. It's not a new player mount, it's a mount for monsters. Once you kill a monster its rider will fall off and continue to attack you – this is just one of the many new AI enhancements coming LOTRO’s way.
So there you go. No flying drakes or other exotic mounts for us after all. Too bad, I had high hopes of those War-Mammoths promised in the forthcoming Book 13.
Read the full chat log on http://community.codemasters.com/forum/showthread.php?t=267980
Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Why do you, or I, or any of us play games of any kind? Presumably, unless we are masochists, because in one way or another we enjoy the process. Playing games such as LOTRO requires some investment on the player's part, partly of money and partly of time, the payoff for which is the pleasure derived from playing the game. The governing principle is common to all transactions: as long as a player (consumer) feels that the benefits outweigh the costs, he or she will happily continue the exchange. In the case of an online game such as LOTRO, the benefits include the challenge of overcoming difficulties, the richly developed world in which the action is located, an ongoing sense of achievement and, of course, interaction with other like-minded participants.
All of which makes the existence of professional power-leveling services hard to understand. Apart from the ubiquitous gold-sellers and their tedious spamming, there are a handful of enterprises which, in exchange for a player's password and a substantial quantity of real-life cash, will undertake to build up an online character to whatever level is desired. As an example, one such company offers to take a character all the way from level 1 to level 50, handing it back to its proud owner complete with mount for around 500 US dollars. How? According to the company's claims, "2 or 3 expert players [are assigned] to your character to do the power leveling; the person leveling up your character has a very good understanding of how your specific class is played. Your character is primarily leveled up via what is commonly known as "grinding", which is players playing solo simply killing monsters over and over. We do sometimes do simple quests to obtain experience. We have extensive knowledge of your game's world and know the best areas & quests to level up your character as fast as possible".
Another such enterprise, treating its relative ignorance of English with a fine disdain, advertises its services with the dashing slogan "To impress your friends, to crash your enemies, and become cheers of your clan!".
Now, I neither know nor care whether these are all scams from beginning to end, whether (illegal) bots are used to level-up the character, or whether Codemasters can and will ban you if they catch on. What completely baffles me is why on earth anybody would want to make use of these services in the first place. Consider: apart from the costs of purchasing the game and of membership, you would be paying half a thousand dollars for the dubious pleasure of having somebody else "play" in your stead, following which find yourself in control of a fully-tooled up l.50 character with which you will do - what exactly? You, as player, are now controlling a kinless and friendless loner with no experience and no knowledge of the game, no familiarity with how to fight your character class, no sense even of the game's geography. Imagine a situation in which such a player finds himself part of a PUG venturing into Helegrod or the Rift; the mind boggles...
In effect, using a power-leveling service is the equivalent of going into an expensive restaurant, ordering a fine meal, and then paying somebody good money to eat it for you. Other comparisons of a more scabrous nature will no doubt occur to readers.
Sunday, 16 March 2008
So, it's Moria after all. The smart money was on Moria all along for the first big expansion; after all, the regions of Middle Earth guaranteed to generate the most player excitement have always been Moria, Rohan, Gondor and Mordor, and it was obvious that in a plot-driven game, Moria had to come first. Lots of goodies are promised, including two new classes, a variety of raids (including more 24-man raids), six new books and a cap level of sixty. Most players seem to welcome the increased cap, though there has been some inevitable grumbling about the extent to which this will devalue the major boss fights in the Rift and Helegrod. Personally, I think it's a good thing - after all, the bosses in the new expansion will inevitably be even tougher, and the new cap will prove an additional incentive to go out there and quest. Plus, in a game obviously designed to have a lifetime of several years, a fixed cap would sooner or later prove a recipe for stagnation.
To my mind, the most exciting innovation sounds like it will be the forging of Legendary Items. According to the official Codemasters release, "Players will be able to forge weapons and class-related equipment and evolve them to build a legacy the likes of Bilbo's Sting and Gandalf's Glamdring. These legendary weapons will level-up along with the player, allowing customization by advancing the item's virtues, adding runic legacies, modifying its titles and forming fables". Now this is something genuinely new and original. If it works along the lines suggested, it could mean an end to the constant upgrading and replacing of weapons (and armour?) as better and better sets become available; this way, once you had acquired, say, a legendary sword (which presumably would in itself require considerable effort), the sword would increase in capabilities alongside you as you leveled up. You might perhaps even be allowed some latitude in selecting the increased capabilities: for instance, higher fire damage or improved speed?
Those who have played Baldur's Gate II will remember that brilliant invention, the talking sword Lilarcor, which apart from an endless stream of wisecracks was also capable of self-improvement.
Saturday, 1 March 2008
Action at the Auction House is normally sedate, even soporific; the great majority of items on sale never attract so much as a single bid, and bidding wars are as rare as beryl shards. The only exception occurs when somebody posts one or more items for sale with a ridiculously low opening bid and no buyout. Sometimes this can happen when the poster genuinely has no idea of the value of an item, at other times it may be from nothing more than curiosity, a sense of fun or the desire to stir things up. When one of these unique opportunities is discovered, most players wait until the last moment possible before putting in their bids, so as to avoid being outbid. A degree of uncertainty is provided by the fact that the AH indicates the duration of a sale in hours only, so that the indication "1 hour" could mean anything from 60 minutes to one second to go...
Usually, when the seller's intention is to provoke a bidding war, he or she will arrange for the sale to time out sometime in the early evening, when most players are online; this morning, however, saw a sharp bidding war on three items posted by Robinn on the Laurelin AH at a time when most players were fast asleep, some recovering from Friday-night excesses and others from overlong Rift raids. The principal item concerned was a single-use Engraved Beryl Earring Recipe; currently fetching an average 2.5-3 gold at auction, the recipe (when critted) yields an Etched Beryl Earring which brings around 13 gold at the moment. Yesterday, it was being offered at the unbelievable starting price of (I think) around 18 silver. The same player had posted two Engraved Beryl Necklace Recipes starting at around 20 or so silver (average AH price 1.2 gold).
The items had certainly been noticed, but by late last night only a handful of bids had been posted on all three; the real bidding war, as expected, began this morning during the last hour and ended up as shown above: a total of 66 bids brought the earring recipe to 1.96 gold and the two necklace recipes to 525 silver each with 53 and 51 bids respectively. I don't know whether 66 separate bids on an item constitutes any kind of record, but presumably both the seller and the final winners went away satisfied: the seller because he walked off with 3G (less commission) having presumably enjoyed the whole process, and the winners because they had secured what was still a relative bargain, even though the initial prices had been driven sky-high. In my case, having acquired one of the necklace recipes for 525S, I was able to sell it on for 1G within five minutes. Not as heroic as killing drakes, but moderately profitable, and should take care of the rent for a few months...
Wednesday, 27 February 2008
Observe these two items of equipment: though lacking the "must-have" chic of teal items, they are good, solid bits of armour, carrying some very desirable increases in stats - the +30 Agility, +15 Will and +45 Power you would get from the Leggings of Mirkwood are not to be sneezed at, and even the "green" Dwarf Leather Gloves of Might look useful.
Alas, it is a dead cert that nobody has ever worn these pieces of armour into battle, nor the many dozens like them. Why? Because they can only be equipped by players who have reached the giddy heights of level 50, and nobody else. Which is completely inane, since l.50s have a wide choice of crafted or reward items with stats vastly superior to these; anybody sticking their nose into Helegrod or Barad Gularan wearing similar items (never mind the Rift) is heading for a quick wipe. On the other hand, players around, say, l.40 would give their eyeteeth for some of these items.
This has always struck me as one the odder (and, I suspect, lazier) design decisions of the game; LOTRO is chock-a-block with weapons and armour of all kinds whose use is limited to levels 48-50. The iron law of marketing which states that top-level players will invariably make a beeline for the best available equipment the game offers, ignoring everything else, also guarantees that such second-rate (for their level) items will become nothing more than vendor thrash. Which, like every wasted opportunity, is a pity. A drastic down-grading of minimum levels for a lot of this stuff would be a sensible future move.
Saturday, 23 February 2008
Well, I am a level 44 Guardian, tried to survive the Barrow-Downs,
with my level 6 friend. Basically, I was soloing it.
Everything went well with the tanking, although sometimes
something came from behind and killed my friend.
However when we got the first boss (Left Hand Key)
my dad decided this would be excellent time to use the printer.
I completely lagged, couldn't click skills. And we got wiped.
However I don't think we would have survived anyway.
This is an genuine found poem, contributed to the Codemasters forum by ParkourKyle, to whom thanks and apologies. Editing was restricted to a change of line breaks in the first stanza.
Virtues are one of LOTRO's minor but still effective little design twists - and a good standby for those times when none of your friends are logged on and you have nothing much better to do than kill 300 wargs in Angmar in order to increase your Determination rank by a factor of one. The gains are minor but not entirely negligible: achieving rank 7 in Determination, for instance, grants you increases of 21 to Agility, 38 to Morale and 0.5 to in-combat regeneration. Mind you, in order to reach rank 8, the current maximum, you need to have knocked off:
- 30 + 60 Wolves in Ered Luin;
- 30 + 60 Slugs in the Shire;
- 30 + 60 Barghests in Breeland;
- 90 + 180 Wargs in the North Downs;
- 120 + 240 Crawlers in the Trollshaws;
- 120 + 240 Snowbeasts in the Misty Mountains;
- 120 + 240 Salamanders in Evendim;
- 150 + 300 Wargs in Angmar.
Since only five virtues out of possible twenty can be slotted (and active) at any one time, a certain amount of tactical shuffling is possible and indeed desirable depending upon what your current objective is. Unfortunately, like other traits, virtues can only be switched around by a Bard, who is not always easily accessible in the depths of the Rift. There is obviously a lot of design potential in virtues, and it's almost certain that the maximum ranks achievable will be increased in the near future. It would also be nice if a), it became possible to slot more than five virtues at any one time, and b), if increased levels were less dependent on this "go forth and slaughter the wildlife in its hundreds and thousands" approach.
The ultimate guide to Virtues can be found on http://www.burgzerg.com/virtues/virtues.php, a
very nicely designed site which uses an advanced graphical table design allowing you to look up details by virtue, by stat or by geographical zone.
Monday, 18 February 2008
If you are easily irritated by trivial comment on inherently inane subjects (and why shouldn't you be?), please stop reading now.
For all the rest of us who have by this time spent a calculable fraction of our time on earth staring at LOTRO's two loading screens, wondering what exactly those weirdly contorted, half-mineral, half-animate shapes writhing along the edge of the staircase leading into (presumably) Mordor could possibly be, I may have an answer. The figure on the right of the staircase in the first screen (above, left) is a US Marine in up-to-date desert camouflage holding an automatic rifle and hoping to sneak into Mordor. The figure on the right of the staircase in the second screen (above, right) is much harder to interpret, but I think I've cracked it: it's an elf with unusually large and pointed ears wearing a crown and clutching, for some reason, a metal crutch. Unlike the US Marine, he is intent on departing the approach to Mordor in as dignified a way as possible under the circumstances.
Don't ask me for the meaning of these two figures. I feel I've done my bit; let others devote themselves to the task of explication.
Saturday, 16 February 2008
So far, LOTRO has been deeply frustrating for the multitudinous race of RPG pack-rats - those players who love to collect one of everything, particularly anything rare or significant, and display it to the best possible advantage, if possible in their very own digital home. Bethesda's Elder Scrolls series, above all the remarkable Morrowind, pandered brilliantly to such players, who could spend days, weeks and months collecting complete sets of every kind of armour, displayed on dummies in the vast halls of their player-designed module homes. The coming of LOTRO housing sparked off hopes that something similar might prove possible here as well, but the oddly limited system of pre-positioned and rigidly sized furniture 'hooks' which the designers opted for seemed to exclude that possibility.
Now Book 12 brings the possibility of acquiring at least some trophies of major encounters, including Sambrog's Helm (Great Barrows), Naruhel's Dress (The Red Maid - Garth Agarwen), Udunion' Swords (Barad Gularan), Ferndur's Skull (Imlad Balchorth), Remmenaeg's Armour (Fornost), Ivar's Banner (Garth Agarwen), Lagmas' Arm (Urugarth), Mordrith's Mirror (Carn Dum), Bogboreth's Head (NE Angmar), Helchgam's Tentacle (Carn Dum), Thorog's Skull (Helegrod) and Thaurlach's Sword (the Rift). Unfortunately they are classified as furniture items small, medium or large, so their placement will necessarily be limited to existing hooks, but it's a start in the right direction. If, as seems likely, LOTRO runs and runs, perhaps a year or so from now we will get fully differentiated and positionable loot items...
Meanwhile, I couldn't resist including an image of the author of these chronicles, or at least his alter ego, sitting comfortably beneath a recently acquired Sambrog's Helm (soloed, of course).
Book 12 is now up and running, not without a certain amount of grief - some people took as long as ten hours to download the patch from the servers. A sightly larger than usual number of minor glitches, of which the most serious appears to be a (partial) malfunction of the Auction House search, with certain items appearing but not others. Some players report getting stuck in odd locations, or being unable to contact a GM via the Help command.
A pleasant surprise for many was the discovery that their reputation with various factions had increased overnight, in some cases dramatically; it's too bad that nearly all the faction rewards continue to be rubbish, with the sole exception of the somewhat tougher than usual Northern Council horse (it's expensive, though, at slightly over 5G).
Visually, the first thing to strike one is the large number of people running through the streets of Bree dressed in what seem to be oriental-style bathrobes; once again, LOTRO's clothes designers have shown that restrained elegance and simplicity are not part of their fashion vocabulary. To see the complete range of new cosmetic clothing and accessories, consult Yatta's encyclopedic compendium at http://www.gaxonline.com/profiles/blog/show?id=1511077%3ABlogPost%3A84990.
Thursday, 14 February 2008
Well, the good news was that yesterday, Codemasters released the patch for the eagerly-awaited Book 12 a day prior to the update going live on the servers. The bad news was that for some strange reason, they decided to only do so as a torrent - the problem with that being, as shown by the howls of anguish on the forums, that a great majority of players hate torrents with a passion. I have to admit to being one of them myself, but the passion doesn't seem entirely unjustified when you consider that many people were reporting estimated download times of between one and five days...
By early Thursday morning, the system seems to have collapsed gracefully, resulting in a flood of "tracker offline" or "torrent rejected by tracker" messages. One generous player, RevHellfire by handle, went so far as to mirror the patch himself and post the link on the CM forums, adding the warning "no promises as to how long I'll leave it up if it gets hit hard".
At the end of the day it hardly matters, since by early afternoon today we should be able to get the entire update off the servers, but it does leave you wondering why they opted for torrent when they could have used carrier pigeons - so much more efficient.
Monday, 11 February 2008
It seems to me that a successful MMORPG represents, amongst other things, an almost perfect microeconomic model – and what’s more, one based on the responses and reactions of real people, rather than computer algorithms. All the elements of classic market economy theory are present: supply and demand, gluts and shortages, self-interest and a very moderate amount of altruism, love of novelty and brand loyalty - and of course, determined efforts to influence, manipulate or subvert the market…
This conceit is reinforced by the frequently violent fluctuations of LOTRO’s economy as expressed though Auction House prices. Among the reasons for such fluctuations are changes in the supply of specific goods as implemented by the designers (i.e., price control by the government) and the introduction of new and hence more desirable goods (i.e., innovation and marketing by manufacturers). At the moment we seem to be going through a mild depression, with prices for many goods set high while demand is falling. The current price for that perennial market indicator, the Beryl Shard, is floating just above 1 gold, up more than 40% from early January. Scarcity drives up prices, needless to say, but sometimes it does so to the point of also driving out buyers. Bits of the highly desirable Armour of the Aurochs set, for instance, which have the great market advantage of not being Bind on Acquire (BoA), are found almost exclusively in Helegrod – but as we know, Helegrod requires 24-man raids which are difficult to organise and, as far as the individual player is concerned, offer a very poor return on time invested. The result is that not many players bother to raid there, and Armour of the Aurochs pieces are correspondingly scarce; a Helm of the Aurochs may be the most expensive item on the Laurelin AH, offered at 70G with an 80G buy-out.
Not surprisingly, the current scarcity of top-quality single-use recipes has also driven up the price of the very best crafted weapons, armour and jewellery; Etched Beryl Necklaces average 5-6G, Etched Beryl Bracelets 12-14G and Etched Beryl Earrings 15-16G. On the other hand, the general disdain in which Annuminas armour is held by most players and the extreme difficulty of assembling complete sets (is anybody still bothering?) means that the market for Arnorian Armour Fragments and Battered Arnorian Armour has almost collapsed; current prices are as low as 10-20 silver for the former and about 300S for the latter, with no takers. Rift-Iron Coins are on offer for 400-500S each, again with no takers at that price – probably a reflection of the fact that there’s not much of value to buy with them. In general, it can be taken for granted that irrespective of what the developers intended, the price of poorly thought-out or unimpressive goods will quickly go though the floor – another perfect concordance with real-world economics.
Come to think of it, how do we know that LOTRO’s economy isn’t already being manipulated by economists from the Harvard Business School running arcane experiments? Maybe those infamous gold-farmers are really MBAs, and all of us are nothing more than white mice running through a sophisticated economics simulation. A chilling thought.
Sunday, 10 February 2008
It's possibly the rarest and almost certainly the most prestigious item of gear in the game: ladies and gentlemen, presenting... the fabulous Cloak of the Cluck!
Presumably it's the final reward for completing chicken play. It comes with a generous armour count of 2 and is described as "indestructible", which is intriguing right there, but the big question is, what form does its fowl power take? Battery power?
Thursday, 7 February 2008
Multi-player games are, by definition, a social activity, and one of the main characteristics of any form of social interaction amongst humans is a gentle jockeying for and preoccupation with prestige. Prestige accumulates from your actions and the degree of influence, good or bad, you exert on your social group – but it is also determined by visual clues of all kinds, particularly of course in anything as dependent on vision as a computer game. The designers of LOTRO have cleverly pandered to players’ desire for prestige and one-upmanship with their system of titles, any one of which, once earned, can be publicly displayed to any other player who has activated the “Names” option – though they may have scored an own goal by creating far too many of them, and making many far too easy to get.
In any case, it’s always fun to see which titles get used in the game – some are perennial favourites, while others appear briefly and then fall out of fashion. There is of course an excess of trait-related titles which merely confirm that you have massacred hordes of this or that foe – enemy of this, foe of that, bane of another and slayer of a fourth. Not much glamour there...
Some of the best titles, confirmed by the fact that they remain perennial favourites, are among the most poetic; they include the fine if low-level Watcher of Roads (slay 30 brigands in Bree) and that source of much frustration, The Undying (survive undefeated to l.20). Some players cock snoot at the whole idea by choosing tongue-in-cheek titles such as Slug-Squasher, Fly-Swatter, Pie-Eating Champion or that excellent chicken-play title, Crosser of Roads.
For a long time, one of the most impressive titles for those in the know was A Light from the Shadows, which indicates that a player has completed Books 1-8, but you don’t see it very often any more; too complicated and unclear, perhaps. My own favourite is Warlord of Angmar – an example of precocious influence, perhaps, since I remember being both awed and puzzled as a humble l.21 by the sight of a l.50 kinsman in all his glory flaunting that title (how could a good guy end up being called that?). I’ve also got a soft spot for the enigmatic Hated by Zaudru (who he, and why does he hate you?). Currently, the coolest titles to swan around with are both associated with fell deeds deep in the Rift: respectively, Ruination of Thrang and Vanquisher of Thaurlach.