Though raids do not play as massive a role in LOTRO as they do in some other online games, they are nevertheless very much the core element of most players' gaming experience; two years on, it seems a good idea to take a look at how LOTRO's raids have stacked up. First of all, what exactly is the definition of a raid? A raid is an example of an instance - namely, a copy of a building, a dungeon, or other location activated by passing through a portal, which allows an individual or group to take part in a private adventure, segregated from the main game and undisturbed by other players. A combat-based instance designed to be experienced by between one and four fellowships is called a raid.
So far, and ignoring the PvP raids in the Ettenmoors, LOTRO has included five proper raids; a sixth, Filikul, was to have been packaged with Vol.II/Book 7 but proved buggy when released in the States. The first to be released, Helegrod in the Misty Mountains, was a 24-man raid (four full fellowships). A vast, sprawling affair, it included nine bosses culminating in the undead dragon Thorog. Players could choose in what order to attempt some of the encounters, and even experienced groups needed at least two evenings to complete the raid. While the raid was visually impressive and offered a good variety of combat experience, it was never as popular as it deserved because of the extreme difficulty of getting together as many as 24 determined players. It also suffered from an odd system of rewards, including titles for defeating bosses which were effectively limited to just one of the 24 participants, and above all armour set drops which were class-specific; this made it virtually impossible for anybody to put together a full set of Helegrod armour, which until the advent of MoM was probably the game's second best after the Rift set.
The other two 24-man raids to date have been Bogbereth and Ferndur, both in Angmar. The first is a quick and easy single-boss attack on the spider queen of Torech-i-Bogbereth, near Garth Fornir. With unimpressive rewards, this raid ended up being farmed for its decorative trophy by 12 or fewer experienced players. The second targets Ferndúr the Virulent, Master of Imlad Balchorth, and is a fair bit harder, but it too could be completed with 12 players; again, it offers no particular rewards beyond a trophy, and it seems likely that many players have never tried it. There have been no more 24-man raids since these two, nor does it seem likely that there will be.
The Rift of Nûrz Ghâshu, the most extensive and, as many believe, the best-designed raid to date, came in with Volume I/Book 11 at the end of 2007. A 12-man raid, it included eight separate bosses leading up to Thaurlach the Balrog. Killing Thaurlach was a long and complex operation for most kinships, with a steep learning curve, but it was a fascinating experience and the rewards, the best set of armour and the best weapons in Volume I, were well worth the effort. Even more than was the case in Helegrod, teams had to learn the different tactics necessary for each boss and the usually very specific actions required, and raid leaders found themselves stretched to the maximum keeping all the balls in the air. One of the great virtues of the Rift was that it managed to balance the different classes, all of whom were needed at different times. It also kept many players happily busy for at least six months, if not more.
The fifth official raid is the 12-man Vile Maw in Moria, which it's probably fair to say is the least-loved and most badly designed to date. Many players have hated the grind of assembling the six-piece set of Radiant armour without which the raid cannot be attempted, the location is minimal and unimpressive (a single room full of water), the fight with the Watcher seems, once you work out the tactics, rather tedious and mechanical, and it can only be completed once a week. Finally, compared to the splendid Thaurlach, the Watcher seems cartooney and lumpish. Not, on balance, a success. Also located in the Waterworks of Moria is the new Filikul raid, which involves killing the turtle Nornúan. Since it's not yet accessible in Europe, I can't comment on it, but - a turtle?
Though it is not officially considered a raid, I would certainly include among them Barad Gularan, a combat instance fully as complex and demanding as any raid. Six bosses must be killed, of whom the last, Udúnion the Rogmul, offers what I believe to be one of the hardest fights in the game, largely because of the split-second coordination called for. Finally, the Delvings of Fror in the Ettenmoors are home to one of the nastiest and probably least visited bosses in the whole game, Gaergoth the Unbound. Gaergoth is another Rogmul, only this one is at l.63 and has over 500,000 morale points; considering that he drops nothing better than four Luminous Stones (though this may have changed recently), it's hardly surprising he's not the most popular holiday destination in the game...
Tuesday, 28 April 2009
Friday, 24 April 2009
In the depths of Moria, the mount of choice is the goat - indeed, it is the only mount available. An extensive and reasonably well-placed network of goat stables allows normal and even (after you achieve a high enough status) some rapid goat travel to most of the points of interest in the mines. However, players can also acquire their very own goat from the Iron Garrison Miners: a rather slow Tame Redhorn Goat costs 1g, 255s and requires Friend standing, but if you've achieved Kindred standing and have a spare 6g, 24s, you can acquire the faster Nimble Redhorn Goat. Actually, this is pretty much the only reason for striving to reach Kindred with the Miners.
Even by current inflationary standards, 6g is nothing to be sneezed at for the average player. Is it worth the effort and expense? Well, it's an oddly attractive beast, has a cute miner's lantern swinging from the back of the saddle, and, unlike its goat express cousins, it doesn't suddenly spin round and round whenever it gets confused about routing... but to be honest, you won't be using it very much. The problem is that it is extremely vulnerable to attack, and can be brought down by about three hits, or even a dirty look and a spit. Which is about all the standard LOTRO horse or pony can take, too, except for the fact that out on the surface, if you stick to the roads you will usually get home safely. In Moria, however, the passages are inevitably narrow, there are endless choke points and little or no room for evasive manoeuvres and, above all, the mines are positively crawling with orcs and other nasties. As a result, you will rarely stay in the saddle for more than a few minutes or even seconds, with the added bonus that when you do come off, you are welcomed by all the mobs you've pulled along the way.
There are of course a few routes in Moria which are pretty much free of lurking enemies: the Wide Halls and Broad Way in Zelem-melek, and the long winding passage from the Great Delving to the 21st Hall, for three. On balance, however, the Moria goat remains a luxury for the rich or the obsessive completist; for everyone else, swift travel and the goat express service are definitely the better bet.
Sunday, 12 April 2009
After Lothlórien, what? There has been much conjecture and scratching of heads over this one, and Lotro Follower, for one, has posted a longish entry discussing possible destinations; he finally, if speculatively, comes down in favour of a journey south along the river Anduin, following in the tracks on the Fellowship.
I have to say I disagree, because the conclusion of Book 7 seems to me quite unambiguous: our next mission will be to enter Mirkwood, rescue the captive dwarves from the fortress of Dol Guldur, and destroy that standing threat to the safety of Lothlórien. At the conclusion of Chapter 9, Celeborn himself announces that "... its power is growing. We cannot wait for the force of Dol Guldur to come forth in strength". And Haldir, before he hands over the reward for completing Book 7, warns the player in the starkest possible terms: "The winds of change are blowing, and I fear they carry with them the onset of war. Lothlórien cannot remain isolated and in safety forever. Lord Celeborn's gaze must turn toward Mirkwood and the great shadow that lies over Dol Guldur. When the time comes to cross the river and fight, as it seems we must, I will call for you". Could anything be clearer? I would hazard a guess that Haldir's promise will be fulfilled no later than Book 8, since there is not all that much left to do in Lorien itself.
Dol Guldur ("The Hill of Sorcery" in Sindarin) was Sauron's first stronghold in Middle-earth, and remains a place of great evil. Here it was that King Thráin II, who bore the last of the seven Dwarven rings of power, was captured: "Only long after was it learned that Thráin had been taken alive and brought to the pits of Dol Guldur. There he was tormented and the Ring taken from him, and there at last he died." (The Return of the King, Appendix A).
This all sounds fascinating enough, but study of the lore suggests the exciting possibility that in Dol Guldur, players will find themselves coming up against one or more Nazgûl, presumably by now at the height of their power. According to Appendix B of The Return of the King, amongst other ominous events which took place in the year 2951, "Sauron [sent] three of the Nazgûl to reoccupy Dol Guldur". Now, I have felt all along that the Nazgûl defeated in the treasury of Helegrod (SoA/B5/C8, "Fire and Ice") was a bit of a pussycat, and that the developers had missed an opportunity, throwing away one of the most powerful enemies of the Free Peoples on a mere fellowship quest - whereas a Ringwraith is obviously destined to be the end boss of a major raid. It may be that that oversight is soon to be rectified...
For those who wish to learn more about its history and lore, an excellent article on Dol Guldur can be found in Wikipedia.
Saturday, 11 April 2009
Just before Book 7 arrived, the forums were buzzing with rumours that the much sought-after First Age Legendaries would suddenly become relatively more common, what with drops from the new 12-man raid and from Lothlórien elven gift boxes as well as from the Watcher.
Well, in practice the opposite seems to have happened, at least on the European servers. How can one tell? Simply by the fact that for the last seven days, not a single First Age legendary has been on offer on the Laurelin Auction House - not even those relatively unpopular, or at least not much in demand, Runecaster and Warden items which had been most in evidence earlier.
This confirms the widely remarked fact that the (very expensive) gift boxes usually, if not nearly always, prove a disappointment. They do, however, sometimes come across; I recently witnessed the jubilant discovery of a l.60 Captain's greatsword by one lucky player. But a poor drop rate from the new gift boxes doesn't explain why fewer items overall should be turning up compared to pre-Book 7 days. The answer, I think, must lie in the fact that the Watcher raid has been modified and made considerably harder - the result being that Watcher (Mark II) kills are still extremely rare, resulting in few if any First Age legendaries from that source.
Monday, 6 April 2009
What of Lothlórien? First of all, of course, it is visually stunning, above all the forest itself: impressively unlike anything we've seen so far, and, as it ought to be, ever so slightly spooky both by day and by night. The contrast with the gloom of Moria makes it that much more effective. I would also rate the epic storyline of Volume II, Book 7 very highly; it can easily be completed solo by anybody who has reached level 60, has a good, strong plot line and maintains its interest to the end (though I admit to finding the ultimate fate of the book's principal villain excessively tame, even rather wishy-washy).
On the other hand, I am disappointed by many of the quests which must be completed in order to gain favour with the Galadhrim, far too many of which are ridiculously trivial and even foolish. This is, I concede, a standing problem with all computer role-playing games, whether online or not, and one which becomes particularly acute in our case, where we are all playing notional second fiddle to the Fellowship: on the one hand the individual player is involved in events of epic scope and grandeur, but on the other, he or she must constantly be brought back down to earth lest he become too big for his boots (and for the lore).
Fair enough. One day Warlord of Angmar and Slayer of Thaurlach, the next begging Galadhrim guardians for the right to enter Lorien, or fending off Anduin lizards; that's the way an adventurer's life goes. But to be invited to go picking berries and mushrooms, or to be treated as a pack mule and instructed to carry supplies right, left and centre is really a bit much; where were you, buster, when we were killing Thorog in Helegrod? Such piffling quests do nothing to maintain suspension of disbelief, and are really a sign of laziness or lack of inspiration on the part of the developers. Obviously there will have to be grinding - but let it at least be inventive and preferably adventurous grinding, not this poor "kindly step out and get me a pint of milk, boy" household chore stuff.
Thursday, 2 April 2009
Well, despite the panic Stateside, it looks as though Europe will be getting Book 7 today after all. According to the Codemasters login page:
Leaves of Lórien Coming Thursday!
And at 19.00 GMT+1, the news was:
We are actively managing the situation by moving some patching onto additional datacentre patch servers to improve the situation, which might lead to some of you receiving 404 errors while connections are being moved.
If you are experiencing slow patching speeds then please try stopping and re-starting the launcher as this may move you onto an improved patch connection.
We are in contact with the content provider and hopefully normal service will be resumed before too long.
Thanking you for your understanding and we hope you are able to get patched up shortly.
Wednesday, 1 April 2009
Volume II, Book 7 is due to hit Europe tomorrow, Thursday, just over two weeks after it was released in the States and a week after the first official release date. Not too bad, particularly if some of the more glaring bugs in the US release have been dealt with. I was particularly happy to see that the community's response to the probably inevitable delay has been much more muted and sensible than in the past - far less of that screaming, throwing the rattle out of the playpen, "want it now!" attitude we've seen in the past. Evidence of a more mature or of a wiser and more experienced audience? Either way, a relief.
Apart from the very welcome new content, Book 7 will hopefully also eliminate all those blatant exploits in the Moria instances which have been straining consciences and provoking arguments in PUGs for months. You know the ones I mean: the strange but indubitable fact that in many cases, if you stand in a doorway, you can hit a boss but he can't hit you. And yes, of course they are exploits, irrespective of the fact that they should have been (but weren't) fixed weeks ago. Principled players should (and mostly do) avoid making use of them, but the temptation is always there, particularly if you are called upon to repeat the 16th Hall instance for perhaps the thirtieth time, purely in order to complete somebody's radiant armour set. In some ways, this may well be the strongest argument against the the policy of requiring players to collect a specific set of armour before trying a particular raid (in this case, the Watcher): the fact that it became tedious enough to lead many players into the temptation of cutting corners. If all goes as planned, that temptation should soon be removed.