Monday, 30 November 2009


We in Europe have often had occasion to grumble, not without reason, about the imbalance between what Turbine does for its subscribers Stateside, and what we get from Codemasters in Europe. Well, Codemasters have gone some way to redeeming themselves today, with the release in torrent form of a Siege of Mirkwood pre-patch. I'm not normally a great fan of torrents, and the speed currently (Monday afternoon) is averaging no more than about 25-30 kb/s, which means it will take a bit more than 24 hours to download the whole 1GB, but what the hell... we won't be able to use it till Thursday anyway, and anything that helps bypass the projected server log-jam is more than welcome. Now, if we could only have a look at the patch notes...

Thursday, 26 November 2009


Back on the Stateside forums, a vicious little argument erupted on 17 November over the top-end raid loot in Siege of Mirkwood, namely the armour set dropping from the Dol Guldur instance, and raged for two days until the thread was closed. The title given to the thread by the original poster says it all: “If you value raid loot, Mirkwood is NOT for you...”. Well, we already knew (see previous post!) that DG armour will be a visual disaster, but it seems that it’s going to be distinctly poor in terms of stats as well – some posters felt it will be barely better than the full Watcher set. And to add insult to injury, it turns out to be (oh, the shame!) purple rather than teal.

At the same time – and I’m definitely confused as to the thinking behind this - it seems the new SoM legendary weapons will only come in Second-Age flavours. No First-Agers at all. So will a l.60 First-Ager be better or worse than a l.65 Second-Ager? I would guess worse, but who knows?

However, yesterday’s DevChat included a couple of interesting comments about both these issues. In response to a question about the purple DG armour set, dev ZombieColumbus (no, really) responded: “In the past, we have gotten burned by giving out the best possible gear our game could generate with the initial release. This immediately makes itemizing further instances impossible. The advantage of holding back like this, is that the jump between our subsequent raid sets will be more noticeable”.

Dev Jalessa comes in for some very bitter criticism in the forum thread; according to the original poster, “the fault lies not with the instance designers, but with the LOTRO Systems Team, led by Jalessa, which intentionally made the loot weak, ignoring all of the mountains of player feedback begging for desirable raid loot throughout beta”. However, when asked whether “we are to see Teal Armour sets and First-Age weapons in the next book update?”, Jalessa responds with “… level 65 First-Age legendaries will not be available immediately with launch of Siege of Mirkwood. We plan on introducing them in a future update”.

The obvious implication of these two comments seems to be that top-end armour sets and First-Age LIs will both come available later, though still before the next volume – in other words, as part of a Mirkwood expansion. Whether this implies that there will be yet another 12-man raid in the region remains unclear. I rather doubt it, though, given that the one currently implemented ends with the death of the resident Nazgul; I mean to say, how could you top that? On the other hand, will a second (teal) armour set start dropping from the same raid? That sounds equally unlikely. Baffling…

Friday, 20 November 2009


Despite appearances, the personage depicted above is not a fashion victim with more money than sense, a colour-blind circus barker, a tourist at the Venice carnival or an actor in an Elizabethan masque. No. It is, gods above help us, a young lady sporting the latest in LOTRO action wear for archers, namely the complete +30 radiance Hunter set which will drop from the Dol Guldur 12-man instance. Or, in other words, the mightiest and most advanced Hunter armour set to date.

What's that you said? She looks like an utter twit? I couldn't agree more. But that, nevertheless, is what Turbine's fashion designers have decreed for the winter '09 collections. Never mind that nobody in their right mind is going to want to be seen dead in a ditch wearing that clown suit. True, it does have the distinction of being the ugliest bit of LOTRO armour since those dreadful purple things some lunatic devised for the Ettenmoors, but still...

It remains a puzzle to me how the design team which came up with some of the most brilliant environments and landscapes I have ever seen in a computer game can be so amazingly lame where clothing and armour are concerned. What makes it worse is that they are obviously baffled by the whole concept of Hunters. They can just about fudge it with the heavies (give'em lots of plate mail, then add more bits on top of that) and with Lore-masters (robes, robes, robes), but it's quite obvious, looking at earlier efforts such as the Lady's Favour set from Dar Narbugud, that they don't have a clue what a Hunter might want to look like.

These hideous rococco creations might be just about tolerable if there was one plain, serviceable, campaign-style set of Hunter armour in the entire game which could at least be worn cosmetically. Something along the lines of plain boots, leather leggings and simple chain mail in muted earth colours would be nice - but there isn't. Lore-masters at least get a chance of acquiring the sober, unadorned, simple black Robe of Viisaus which is the reward for completing Vol I/Bk 13/Ch 4 ; judging by the number of these I've seen recently, there's a real demand out there for unfancy gear. But no, there's nothing like that in medium armour.

As for weapons - don't get me started on the neon glow, radioactive, three-sizes-too-large rejects from a drunken WoW design session we've been seeing lately...

Saturday, 14 November 2009


It's the doldrums again in LOTRO, as we all wait upon the arrival of Siege of Mirkwood. Book 8, The Scourge of Khazad-dum, ultimately proved to be thin fare indeed. The three +15 radiance instances (Mirror Halls of Lumul-Nar, Water Wheels and Halls of Crafting) were interesting and well designed, but had limited repeatability; by the time one had run them enough times to gather all the elf-stones, plus several extra to help kinsmen out, the shine had definitely worn off. As for the 12-man instance, Dar Narbugud, even those with sufficient radiance to attempt it (rather less than a third of the player base, I would judge) feel that it is definitely no second Rift of Nûrz Ghâshu. For one thing, it is nowhere near as difficult as the Rift; the Blind One, the penultimate boss, is admittedly tricky, but not a patch on Thaurlach the Balrog. For another, unlike the richness and variety of the Rift, Dar Narbugud's landscape is a dispiriting succession of red, vaguely organic caverns and passages, like a proctologist's nightmare...

What many players have been feeling the lack of for a very long time has been something new and meaty to explore. The last really satisfying area we got to roam around in was Eregion; the subterranean twists and turns of Moria and the static quality of Lothlorien somehow failed to satisfy the urge. So expectations for Mirkwood are high: a new area to discover, even if it turns out to be a bit smaller than expected, a new and hopefully varied 12-man raid, and of course the skirmishes, which sound as though they really will have a serious element of replayability. In the meantime, for all us jaded old-timers, there's really not very much else to do but mark time and go fishing...

Thursday, 12 November 2009


WarCry Network had a chance to chat with Turbine's developers on 11 November. The full transcript is available on their site. Nothing earthshaking was revealed, and in fact most of the responses were either disappointing or else offered nothing new.

Dev Orion clarified the new development he calls 'Inspired by Greatness', a mode which will enable players to solo Epic Quests by temporarily increasing stats: "In the current implementation, the buff increases your statistics to allow you to readily handle the foes present within instance spaces. What that means, in the short term, is that a player deciding to take the solo version of an epic quest that contains an instance will be bumped up to the approximate level of an Elite creature. This also includes some bonuses to regen that make it possible for players to survive against multiple opponents".

One of the most eagerly awaited elements of Siege of Mirkwood is the new multi-boss raid in Dol Guldur. In answer to a question about how many bosses this would include, dev jwbarry replied "The raid at the end of the cluster features multiple boss fights, it's a full raid not a lair raid. There will also be at least 8 skirmish raids launching. These are designed for 12 players and have been balanced as such, including custom built bosses for each" - so nothing really new, there.

Little of interest was said about legendary items, other than Graal reiterating "The addition of scrolls that allow legacy tier upgrades and various other improvements to Legendary items allows players to continue to upgrade their Legendary Items far beyond what is currently available. Initial ranks of legacies will be somewhat lower in Mirkwood to make room for these upgrades".

More fuel was added to the debate about whether Wardens make good main tanks by Belechannas' question: "A Warden who is defeated and then revived (with their threat reset to zero) lacks any aggro catch-up skill similar to Engage/Rising Ire. Is it intended that Wardens are the only class unable to function in their primary role after being revived in a long fight?". To which Graal responded, rather discouragingly for Wardens, "The lack of an instant threat catch up skill is one of the differences in tanking between Wardens and Guardians, just like Wardens dont have a easily used forced taunt. It is unlikely, but not impossible that this will change. Bottom line...Dont die".

To questions about the availability of new skills in SoM, Jalessa disappointingly responded "With Siege of Mirkwood, each class will get one skill upgrade at level 62", and "There are no class quests added in Siege of Mirkwood". So with five new experience levels, we get just one new skill - confirmation that current policy is for improvements to come largely through the acquisition of new gear. Unfortunately for those who aren't into raiding, or hate the radiance gating system, Jalessa also pointed out that "we're not looking to add radiance to crafted gear at this time".

reassured a questioner that Skirmish rewards would be available to all, even those who were unable to take part in 3, 6 or 12-man skirmishes: "All items will be available for purchase for all players. Small Tokens come from and 3 man skirmishes. Large Tokens come from 6 and 12 man skirmishes. Some rewards require Small Tokens and some require Large Tokens, in addition to an amount of Skirmish Marks. Large Tokens can be downgraded into Small Tokens with no additional cost. Small Tokens can be upgraded into Large Tokens with an additional amount of Skirmish Marks. The goal is that with enough time, everyone, regardless of playstyle or preferred group size will be able to get all the rewards they are striving for".

Champions have been particularly worried about the loss of their Fervor stance legacies with the new SoM legendary weapons. According to Graal, "The Champion legacies were worked over the most of any of the classes due primarily to the reduction and consolidation of Stance based legacies. Champions gain several legacies that give damage bonus to individual skills, a critical magnitude legacy and several more utility type legacies. In addition all of the Ardour/Glory legacies have been combined to affect both stances".

Finally, to my mind the most interesting new feature revealed here (I may have missed an earlier announcement, however) was the "Immediate" skill execution type. Graal described this as "a new skill execution type that will absolutely interrupt whatever you are doing and execute the skill. We use this for interrupt type skills like Clobber".

Tuesday, 10 November 2009


At last it can be revealed! Astonishing photograph documents the first (non-beta) raid and hostile landing on the shores of Mirkwood, weeks before the official release of SoM. LOTRO Cronicles is proud to release this undoctored image of history in the making, as elements of the Western Alliance raiding forces establish an early bridgehead on the east bank of the Anduin, well in advance of the main Free Peoples' invasion.

Thursday, 5 November 2009


Turbine's publicity has always tended to be somehow unimpressively flat, as though they had some terrific material at their disposal but didn't quite know what to make of it. Now, however, they have just released the second Siege of Mirkwood pre-publication trailer, and it's first-rate. For once, they've made good use of all the elements at their disposal - mythos, background, epic quality - with genuinely impressive results. Oh, and congratulations to whoever did the voice-over for the Lieutenant of Dol Guldur, Lord of the Necromancer's Keep; I hope we'll be hearing lots more from him in-game.