Saturday, 27 February 2010


You have fought you way into the evil Necromancer's castle of Dol Guldur, battled orcs and fouls spirits until you break into the vast hall of Gorothul, chief sorceror of Barad Guldur and sole possessor (when he remembers) of the priceless Symbol of Celebrimbor. Gorothul's voice is softly sinister, and he conjures up legions of spirits and animated corpses to destroy you, though the fact that he looks the spitting image of Ming the Merciless does give you pause for a second.

As you fight for your life (and a slim chance of acquiring the aforementioned Symbol of Celebrimbor, an artifact of immense value), you ears are battered by a steady beating sound. Glancing up for a second you see, through the dim glass of the vast windows rising up either side of the dread altar, two Nazgûl riding the great fell beasts whose flapping wings echo through the hall. When, with luck, Gorothul finally goes down to his just reward and you have discovered that once again the priceless Symbol of Celebrimbor has failed to drop, your attention may be caught by a strange discrepancy: while the fell beast seen through the south window is beating his wings energetically, rising and falling as he does, his fellow to the north is doing - well, nothing very much. He is in fact barely holding position right at the bottom of the window, listlessly twitching his wings now and again.

Is the second fell beast on strike? Tired from a long voyage to the Shire and back? Suffering from mange? The answer may well affect the whole outcome of the War of the Ring, and I for one really think we should be told...

Friday, 19 February 2010


Siege of Mirkwood has been out for some time now, but with the exception of a few hardcore raiding kinships in Europe and the States, the culminating 12-man Barad Guldur raid that came with it has yet to be cracked by most kins - or even seriously dented. Hard numbers are of course always impossible to come by, but I haven't just plucked this suggestion out of thin air. It's based on a number of facts: on first-hand knowledge about the how things stand with various kins on my server, on the frequency (or paucity) of mentions on GLFF, on the almost complete absence of extensive debate about the tactics of taking down anything but the first boss on any of the forums, on the fact that except for the odd member of the aforementioned handful of hardcore kins, you almost never catch sight of +30 armour, and of course on input from quite a large cross-section of active and competent players.

Of course, Barad Guldur is a tough and unforgiving raid, and that's pretty much as it should be. Nor is radiance that much of a problem these days; if you really want to raid, you can get +120 radiance from the three +15 and three +25 armour items, all of them available in exchange for medallions. All six items cost 120 Mirkwood medallions in total, which can be assembled in about a week or less - not too massive a grind. No, the main problem with BG appears to be the Gauntlet. The Gauntlet (as it's come to be known) is a running fight with Uruks, wargs and goblins all the way up the stairway which leads from the entrance of the tower to the room of Dûrchest, the first boss. It's a tricky fight, because adds are constantly arriving as you leapfrog your way up from one landing to another, and if you take too long, you get swamped by reinforcements. Personally, I think it's a brilliant test of raiders' ability to think on their feet, and I'm all for it, except that it's in the wrong place. In other words, it's a long fight, as hard to master as any boss fight and tougher than most - and it's still only a prequel.

Worse, much worse, is the fact that the whole thing resets entirely within a very short space of time; in fact, if you wipe on Dûrchest, you just about have enough time for one more attempt before it resets. This last bit is frankly idiotic; the fact that to take another crack at what is still only the first boss you have to run the Gauntlet again, no matter how good you've become at it, is a huge morale stripper. In fact, it may well be the main reason why, unless changes are made, Barad Guldur could end up being the most under-exploited raid since Helegrod. I don't think the Gauntlet should be removed, and I wouldn't want to see it go - though if asked in the planning stages, I would have suggested it be placed at the end rather than the beginning of the raid. But there's a simple, obvious solution which would be extremely easy to implement: treat the Gauntlet as another boss fight, and give it a lock: once you've run it successfully, that's the last you see of it till the next general reset. Here's hoping...

Saturday, 13 February 2010


I was about to write a post about the current state of Legendary Items, when my attention was grabbed by the fact that the "Tell the Community" feature on both the Turbine (Stateside) and Codemasters (Europe) forums are asking for players' views on, of all things, the Legendary Item System!

This feature of the forums isn't all that familiar, and some of the people who do know about it have sometimes been dismissive in the past; understandable, in a way, given the inanity of at least some of the questions. However, the point is that unlike unsolicited player comments in forums and blogs, the responses to questions posted in these threads are very specifically those which the developers and publishers want to receive - so the odds are that such responses will at least be read, and very likely taken into consideration where it counts.

The relevant questions here are:
1. You are given the opportunity to make two changes to the Legendary Item System. What are the two most important changes you would make? Please limit your answer to only two changes.
2. Name two things about the Legendary Item System you enjoy the most.

I would urge everybody who has ever complained loudly about the LI system to take advantage of this opportunity and make their views known. Needless to say, this involves thinking a little about the questions and coming up with succinct and intelligent answers; snappy comments along the lines of "The LI system stinks!" or two-thousand word rants are unlikely to make a big impression... I'll post my own response here in a day or two.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010


Illustrated above, Rochben gloves are perhaps the screwiest item drop in the current expansion, Siege of Mirkwood. They drop from the fourth and last boss of Sammath Gul, the fell spirit Demafaer, who is only accessible in hard mode; they give +25 radiance; and they are drop very often - perhaps as much as 40% of the time. And they only come in one flavour: Heavy.

Why are they weird? Well, first of all, they represent the one and only example in the game of a radiance item (and a major one at that) simply dropping as normal loot - every other item requires you to either kill a major raid boss and then win a 1:12 roll, or else gather a number of medallions. Rochben just drop, and by this time, they are being treated as vendor trash by many kinships. Secondly, there are no equivalent items anywhere in the game for medium and light armour wearers; the Dar Narbugud set gloves which are exchangeable for the Greater Elf-stone of Hand dropped by Zholuga have +20 radiance, and the Moria instance gloves only +15. Thirdly, they are the only teal radiance item in Siege of Mirkwood.

Were they left in by mistake after beta? Are they an example of whimsy on the part of the loot devs? Whatever, they're untidy. And unfair to all us non-heavy metal wearers...

Friday, 5 February 2010


OK, OK, I admit it. This post is definitely puerile, and almost certainly cartoonist, or blimpist, but I couldn’t resist it. I mean, isn’t that that Miss Piggy in a natty suit of plate armour, about to gallop off in all directions in search of Rangers?

On a marginally more serious note, have you noticed how often loading screen and announcement artwork falls far short of LOTRO’s usually very high standards? Think of the dreadful Rivendell loading screen, with its club-handed or fingerless Legolas (I’ve mentioned this before), or, worst of all, the hideous loading screen illustrating last autumn’s harvest festival, which included a number of ugly stick figures clustered around a festive table. Some of the worst appear to be the result of over-enlarging and distorting an ingame screenshot – the harvest festival one certainly did. Seems a shame…

Thursday, 4 February 2010


I've spent the last few weeks exploring Mirkwood, leveling up my main character, replacing old legendary items, collecting new ixp runes, acquiring the +25 radiance armour pieces, running skirmishes and pioneering the new Barad Guldur 12-man raid with my kinship. In other words, it's been busy, and in that time I've sampled pretty much everything that's available in Siege of Mirkwood. So? Personally, I think this has been the best expansion since before Mines of Moria - in fact, the best expansion since the one which brought us the Rift - and I believe it vindicates those of us who insisted that the game would eventually get its act together again.

First of all, the visual design is absolutely brilliant. The various regions of south Mirkwood are all different in interesting ways, both visually and in terms of content, but they all share a common eeriness. I was particularly impressed by the way that the woods are, well, murky... In other words, they're not pitch-black, causing you to keep walking off cliffs, but actually communicate the feeling that something could be lurking in the gloom just a few yards away from you - as, in fact, it probably is. Actually depicting gloom rather than darkness is no mean feat, graphically, so congratulations yet again to the landmass designers at Turbine.

The skirmishes are fun. They are quite fun to run solo, but they can be a real hoot in groups of six or more. The devs, wisely to my mind, effectively decided to make skirmishes largely irrelevant to a character's progress in the game, so that the skirmish marks you accumulate are largely employed in increasing your soldier's abilities. There are two exceptions to this rule. One is that skirmish marks can be exchanged for class quest items, some of them once extremely rare and valuable; I'm not entirely certain I approve of this, as it obviously tends to devalue wonderful old locations like Carn Dum, but I can also see how this could come as a relief to new players who may be having a hard time getting fellowships together for the tougher mid-level instances. The other exception, which some players may not have cottoned onto and which is a very good reason for high-level players to keep running instances, is that 1,950 skirmish points will buy you a Scroll of Empowerment with which you can upgrade any legacy on a l.65 legendary item by one tier. This makes it possible, and even feasible, to boost all your legacies to the maximum.

The three and six-man instances in Barad Guldur are well-designed and intelligently plotted, and have considerable replay value. They are also very different from one another, meaning they don't necessarily all appeal to the same player. The least popular appears to be the Dungeons instance, which involves a considerable amount of trickery and sneaking about, plus a hefty dose of luck, but it makes a good pendant to Sword Hall, a fast, purely combat-oriented instance. Judging by looking for fellowship requests, the six-man Sammath Gul instance is by far the most popular, partly of course because the major boss fight here is the game's only source of the rare Symbol of Celebrimbor, without which no Second-Age l.65 legendary can be crafted.

Ah, those legendaries again... Well, the facts are straightforward: to begin with, your old, much cherished l.60 First-Age weapon is pretty nearly useless, as in DPS terms it can be trumped by any new l.65 Third-Ager. So break it up, and dry your tears. Next, while Third-Age LIs are pretty easy to find or buy, Second-Agers no longer drop from anywhere and are now genuinely rare. They can only be crafted, and crafting requires the aforementioned Symbol of Celbrimbor, whose drop rate seems to be very roughly 1:10 - so even at this point in time, not many players have even one Second-Age l.65 item, let alone two. On the plus side, your chances of getting good legacies from the start have increased dramatically - it's still a gamble, but no longer a virtually hopeless one. More interestingly, you can now effect changes to your LIs yourself; Scrolls of Delving will increase an item by ten levels, to l.70, and as noted above, Scrolls of Empowerment will upgrade one tier. You can also choose to replace a single legacy with a new one which will increase a basic ability.

As for the new 12-man raid, I can confirm that it is difficult - very difficult for the average kinship and, I would say, not even worth trying with a PUG. This is not so much a matter of design trickery, just that even after you have learned the tactics (and there seems, mercifully, to be more than one ideal tactic for each fight), it calls for considerable precision, speed and accuracy - Barad Guldur is very unforgiving. Need I mention that in the first boss fight, every player death gives Dûrchest a 17.5% melee damage buff, and that after he reaches 130k morale, every death heals him for 190k morale?


Well, I've been taking a holiday from the blog, but not from the game. This was partly due to the need for a break of sorts, but also because with the new year, some weird bug wouldn't let me log into at all, claiming that Firefox wasn't accepting cookies. It was one of those ridiculous computer standoffs, where the idiot machine claims that black is white, and refuses to listen to reason. Anyway, I finally gave in and did a whole lot of re-installing from scratch, so here we are again...