Friday, 27 February 2009


Volume II, Book 7 of Mines of Moria, to be released - we fervently hope - in the not-too-distant future, will take players deeper into the enchanted forest of Lothlórien. Actually, all of Lothlórien (rather than just the tiny fragment of it we can access at the moment) was due to be packaged with the original MoM expansion, but as it was still unfinished round about the crucial Christmas release date, Turbine opted to hive it off.

The image above is of Caras Galadhon (or Galadon, as the first edition has it), tree city of Lothlórien and closest thing to an elven capital during the waning of the Third Age. It appeared recently on official game forums, only to be quickly whisked away for being in apparent breach of non-disclosure agreements. Such is the current hunger for more hard information about V II/Bk 7 that it seems worth recycling, though apart from looking pretty, it doesn't really tell us very much...

Wednesday, 25 February 2009


The bow on the right, Reason, is the l.58 Second Age legendary I've been using in Moria for the last couple of months, and it's a pretty good bow. However, I've been on the lookout for a l.60 Second Age, more out of a feeling that I really needed to get the best possible (leaving aside First Age items for the moment, please), rather than because I was unhappy with Reason. A few days ago, chancing to log on early one morning when almost nobody else was around, I was very lucky to find a l.60 bow on the Laurelin Auction House with a sellout price of 30G. It was unidentified, and therefore a gamble, but it paid off - the legacies it came with were more than decent, if not perfect.

So Darkfall has now become my main ranged weapon, rushed up to l.30 in a matter of minutes thanks to a stash of item experience point runes. However, what has really floored me is the difference two levels make to the DPS (Damage Per Second) rating: maxed out in both cases, Reason has a DPS rating of 53.6, whereas Darkfall, raised to the same tier, achieves an astonishing 59.1! Oh, and the speed is significantly better, too (2.2 versus 2.5),

Moral: Use the highest level legendary weapon you can lay your hands on to be getting on with, but as soon as a l.60 comes your way, grab it at almost any cost. What will happen to faithful old Reason, you ask? I though of breaking it up when it reaches l.40 in order to reclaim some of the experience, but on second thought, I may after all use a Beleriand title scroll on it, and keep it around as an alternative or backup weapon...

Sunday, 22 February 2009


A debate has been raging on the European LOTRO forums around a casual comment by Halo Jones concerning a hitherto unknown edition of Lord of the Rings: "After Moria, the fellowship went to Mordor directly, at least they did in edition 1 of the book, and thats the only edition that Turbine have rights for. There was no Rohan, there was no Gondor, Helm's deep was added in the 70's as marketing people suggested reprints should have more blood and gore to keep up with the times".

It would have been helpful if Halo Jones had given the full background to this fascinating bibliographical conundrum. He is of course wrong in referring to the so-called Coimbra variorum edition as "edition 1"; the true first edition is the one published in 1954 and 1955 by George Allen & Unwin, London. However, in 1957 an unauthorised and indeed pirated version of Lord of the Rings was published in a cheap, one-volume paperback by Olivares S.A. of Coimbra, Portugal, and exported to a number of countries in the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East. Olivares was able to do so thanks to the same loophole in international copyright legislation which allowed Ace Books in the U.S.A. to circulate their own unauthorised paperbacks of the work. As it happened, for reasons of economy, Olivares employed an expatriate Welsh poet called Owen Shuttlegrove, then resident in Coimbra, to reduce the full original text to the final 278 pages of their version; rather than undertake an extensive re-write, Shuttlegrove simply carved the central three quarters of the plot out of the book. It is undoubtedly this version that Halo refers to, above. I should add that the Coimbra variorum is exceedingly rare, and that copies can fetch substantially more than authentic first editions of Lord of the Rings.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


A recent posting in that pleasantly discursive blog, The Middle-Earth Adventurer, was entitled "Post 60 Slump", and I believe it definitely touched on a sore point for many players: "I think that there's a natural incentive to seeing the blue xp go up and up and up as you level. It hits a part of the human psyche that drives us to keep going on whatever path we've set out on. Once that stops... well, you lose something, even if there's everything else in the game still pushing you forward."

I couldn't agree more, even though in my case it hasn't yet stopped me carrying on with the last batch of Moria quests... but it's true that the salt hath lost somewhat of its savour. What's the problem? Basically, that when Turbine released Mines of Moria, they raised the level cap from 50 to 60. In other words, you could now earn experience points and level up as far as the new upper limit of sixty. This was a fine and necessary change, as far it went; unfortunately, in practice it proved all too easy to reach the new upper limit. Dedicated players went from 50 to 60 in a month or less; for the average player, I would guess a time period of around three months is probably about right. That is way too damn fast, given that it probably took an average of nine months or so to go from level 1 to level 50 in Shadows of Angmar. And as the Middle-Earth Adventurer points out, once you reach the cap level, things somehow seem a lot tamer. Particularly if the game as a whole seems to have slightly run out of steam (which is a subject I shall be getting back to very soon).

Now, normally you can't just say, "OK, we'll simply increase the leveling requirements - let's double them", because to do that, you have to build in the extra quests and activities by a similar factor. But in the case of Moria, that wasn't a problem. How do I know? Simply, because when I hit l.60, there still remained at least 45%-50% of total new quests still uncompleted. And though I obviously can't say how many EPs their completion would have given, it should have been substantial, given that many of them, like "Enemies of Lothlorien", are multi-strand quests calling for the completion of several strands of very difficult quests. It would have made more sense to extend leveling from l.50 to l.60 by a factor which have ensured reaching the cap after completion of, say, 80% of the new quests. Let's hope that when Turbine next raise the cap, as they will surely do sooner or later, they will have learned their lesson.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


Armchair strategists and military scholars in LOTRO are no different than in real life: they tend to base their arguments on what should be, rather than what might actually turn out to be the case in practice. In the months before the German army overran France in 1940, the French general staff insisted that there was absolutely no way the invasion would come through the Ardennes, since tanks couldn’t negotiate the terrain – never mind that General Guderian, who led the invasion, had actually published a book explaining very clearly what he planned to do. Reality check…

A recent and very interesting debate on the Codemasters forums has been running under the title “Hunters are NOT tanks! Please, people!”; it includes a lot of stern comments by Guardians and the like ticking off Hunters for having the gall to think that they might sometimes find it necessary to tank an opponent. This is, of course, absolutely correct in principle, and under normal circumstances no Hunter with an ounce of sense will do something as stupid as pulling aggro off a Guardian. This is fine as far it goes… assuming the fellowship includes a competent Guardian.

Thing is, most of the arguments in the thread are predicated on the performance of an ideal fellowship, namely the classic two heavy, two crowd-control and two ranged setup. Unfortunately, unless you have the good fortune to belong to the kind of über-military Kinship which maintains one of each class online at all times, fully equipped and ready to go, your average player will find himself or herself all too often questing or raiding in a very mixed group indeed – and I don’t necessarily mean in a PUG.

In the first two months or so after Mines of Moria came out, my kinship experienced a temporary shortage of heavy tank classes, so that in a number of cases I found myself leading 6-man raids without a Guardian, indeed sometimes without any kind of melee class at all. As a result, I had no option other than to tank myself, and while of course this ended in tears a number of times, we eventually got the hang of it; by the time things got back to normal, I had successfully tanked four out of the six Moria instance bosses. Let me quickly add that this was entirely a group effort, and that I would have been ground hamburger in no time without the sterling efforts of a dedicated Minstrel and/or Lore Master – but the point is that in war as in the legal profession, hard cases make bad law. It’s easy enough to lay down rules under ideal circumstances, and those rules are obvious enough. It’s the less than ideal, or frankly chaotic, situations that are a damn sight more challenging, and that’s when the rule book won’t necessarily give you the answer.

Friday, 6 February 2009


Many players have no doubt by now acquired that remarkable trophy, General Talug's Armour Display, which comes in a nifty red cabinet. Rather fewer of its proud owners may be aware of the fact that this is LOTRO's first functional trophy. Which is to say that if you click on the display, you will suddenly find yourself wearing the late general's armour. That's right, a full set of finest orc armour for you to strut about in - just like the armour set you looted in Fil Gashan, which was so rudely yanked away again when you exited the instance.

The down side is that, like the Fil Gashan set, it vanishes after five minutes. Still, that's long enough to get to Bree and spread raw panic among the citizenry...

Wednesday, 4 February 2009


Legendary warriors in fact and fiction have often wielded unique weapons, usually swords, which sometimes become as famous as their owners: El Cid’s Tizona, Charlemagne’s Joyeuse, King Arthur’s Excalibur, Roland’s Durendal, Beowulf’s Naegling, Elric’s Stormbringer… and of course, Orcrist, Anduril and Sting. So Turbine’s announcement that legendary weapons would play a major role in the Mines of Moria LOTRO expansion was greeted with justifiable enthusiasm; according to the official 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".

The reality proved somewhat different. What we have now is interesting, but a legendary weapon system it ain’t. What we have is several hundred different legendary items of three different kinds; in order of increasing rarity (and value), these are Third Age, Second Age and First Age legendary items, all of them class-specific and of several different types. Furthermore, Third Age legendaries can be of user levels 51-60, Second Age legendaries can be of user levels 53-60, and First Age legendaries span user levels 59-60. For each player class, age and level there is a sword, dagger, club, spear, hammer, bow and crossbow, plus all the class special items such as burglar’s tools. You do the math.

Third Age items drop like flies, and are virtually given away with cereal boxes – not very legendary. On the other hand, Second Age items are extremely rare, while you can virtually forget First Age stuff. Another factor which players have come to realise is that user level is critical, almost more so than age; a user l.60 Third Age weapon is virtually as good as a Second Age weapon of user l.58 with roughly equivalent legacies. What this means in practice is that a very rare l.55 item may turn out to be little more than vendor trash.

As now implemented in LOTRO, legendary items (LIs) are essentially a running crap shoot, an exercise in gambling. You gamble on winning a roll and getting a good drop (imagine winning a 1:12 Vile Maw roll and receiving a l.59 First Age club!), you gamble on your LI having half-decent legacies, you gamble every time you reforge, you gamble on improving your runics… Somebody on the forums has worked out exactly how many Third Age LIs you would have to deconstruct in order to end up with six tier 8 runics, three for each of the two LIs you can equip; believe me, you don’t want to know the numbers. And you will carry on gambling, because by its very nature the system always sets a new goal: get a higher user level item, get a Second Age item, get a First Age item, then get a better yet First Age weapon.

Turbine’s developers have devoted a lot of ingenuity to devising a very complex, reasonably effective (in its own way) system of grinding in order to constantly upgrade your LIs – and yes, it can be fun, and it gives you something to strive towards after hitting the level cap of 60. Unfortunately, in the process they seem to have lost sight of what a legendary weapon actually means. A legendary weapon becomes part of you, remains identified with you for better or for worse; you would no more throw it away than cut off your hand. Can you imagine Aragorn casually chucking away Anduril because, uh, that dwarf arms dealer seems to be selling a cooler sword?

I currently carry a reasonably nice l.58 Second-Age bow with about 865,000 experience points on it. It’s called Preacher, we’ve been together for a long time now, I’ve managed to put some decent sixth-tier runics on it… and first chance I get of finding, buying or stealing a l.60 Second-Age bow with a half-decent set or legacies, out it goes, deconstructed and as much of its experience as possible re-routed into the new bow. Not very legendary, I know, but there it is.

It’s too late now to tinker with the system, so we’re stuck with it. But it would be nice if, perhaps with the next volume, the developers came up with an another crack at the problem. Here’s what I suggest: make the player’s choice of a new legendary weapon the reward for a long, hard quest or even quest chain. There should be no different ages or levels: just starter legendaries, all of the same level, and the player could pick whatever he or she fancies – sword, dagger, bow or whatever – as well as the starter legacies. Then use the existing system of weapon experience points to build up weapon experience, exchangeable for different improvements at various levels, leaving as much of it as possible to the player’s discretion. That’s it: that’s your new, truly legendary weapon, yours forever, growing along with you. No second choices, no exchanges. How about it?

Monday, 2 February 2009


Everyone bitches about LOTRO's inane housing system, which only allows you to place certain items in certain well-defined spots around your house, known as hooks. Since these are very limited in number, all LOTRO housing tends to look as though it has recently been visited by bailiff trolls who walked off with 90% of the household items. The limited number of hooks is bad enough, but what makes it worse is the daft design decision to classify all housing and decorative items as large/small/thin furniture, large/small wall items and the like, which can of course only be placed into the equivalent pre-designated slots. Note that while, logically enough, perhaps, large items of furniture cannot be placed into 'small furniture' slots, you're not allowed to do the opposite, either - that space may be large enough to take a billiard table, but you can't place a stool there!

Most irritating of all is the fact that the large/small designations are not dependent on the overall dimensions of an object, but appear to be entirely arbitrary. The image above is of the raised dais in a Breeland kinhouse, representing about half the total floor area of the main hall. Looks empty, doesn't it? That's because apart from items on the walls, you are only allowed to place two items of furniture on an area the size of a small ballroom. Furthermore, these two slots are earmarked for (wait for it!), 'special furniture'. What, you ask, is special furniture? So far, the game includes just three such items: a breakfast table, a map table and a reflecting pool. But the point is that if you try and place a normal large table of the same dimensions as the map table into one of these slots, it won't go in. LOTRO's designers have taken it upon themselves to dictate that your very expensive (to buy and run) kinhouse can sport a frog pond in its great hall - but not a dinner table. How far can control freakery go?

(Oh, and by the way, experiments have shown that just one of every LOTRO trophy available to date represents more items than a kinhouse can accommodate - never mind your average hovel. Nice going.)