20 February, 2010

Postcards From Middle-earth (Lord of the Rings Online)

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, February 20, 2010


This entry was three and a half hours late because I've been in full "just one more" mode with LotRO for almost two weeks now.

Meet Amborella. She is a hobbit burglar. I mean, it's Lord of the Rings. Who else would you want to be? The elves are snooty and dull, and the men are dirty savages. Plus hobbits get to start in the Shire, the preeminent imagining of impossibly wonderful rural life.

Amborella is an ancient flowering plant (think Tuatara), unique to it's family and genus. (Everything's pretty much unique to its species.) It was the first flower name I could find that wasn't already taken. The game says gem stones and flowers are the most common names for hobbit females. It's a little unwieldy, but I'll wear it proudly against all of the deliberate misspellings of characters from the movies. :P

Here I am accompanying a guitarist on my clarinet. I think Minstrels (the healers of the game) can actually program songs, but the rest of us have to muddle through with the keyboard. Imagine playing on a piano where there are no black keys, just a long row of white. Between the interface and the lag, it's not for serious playing. Occasionally I'll pop out my guitar for a simplified version of an old Metallica song (back from when they were classically influenced and had acoustic bits in their intros) or my clarinet for a little Legend of Zelda, but that's about it.

But it's not all pastoral and playful. This is a blood marsh. I'm not up on my Tolkien, but the backstory given to places like this makes them feel part of the same fiction. Apparently the men of these lands, through some inaction, brought a horrible curse upon themselves. Now they live in the aftermath of a great disaster, huddled around campfires in the ruins on the hill. There's not even a proper stove up there! Imagine living on nothing but trail food. :P

Speaking of food, here are some hardy adventurers harvesting crops. It's pretty funny to see a distinguished elven archer or dwarf in full plate ride up and start sorting seeds. :)

It's terribly time consuming, though, a perfect time to grab a snack or browse the web. At some level it's nice to have an enforced break, but at another level, it's tedious busywork. The same goes for the cooking. Plus every single profession has a reputation grind. If I want improved recipes that let me crank out the high quality foodstuffs I have to cook special dishes for the Cook's Guild. And since the skills to do so are on very long timers, I can't do them fast enough to keep up with my leveling. By the time I'm level 60 I'll be making quality food for level 40 characters. :P I guess it's punishment for rushing.

Meanwhile, back at the human ruins...

I was able to take this picture because I was auto-following another character. LotRO has some interesting mechanics around grouping. There are special team attacks which stun an enemy while everyone picks a color. Red damages, green heals, blue gives energy, and yellow... Well I haven't used yellow yet. Some of my debuffs are yellow so maybe it gives a powerful debuff. Regardless, it's something new to learn and makes a group feel like more than the sum of its parts.

Still, I don't group very often. Half the fun of being a burglar is sneaking around.

And what's more classic than a hobbit sneaking past trolls? These were the first trolls I encountered in the game and they were suitably intimidating. Fighting more than one at a time would be suicide. And this is me sneaking into the very heart of their encampment.

As a burglar I have a treasure sense that gets me into all kinds of trouble. See that human body just past the boar carcass? It's got loot in it.

Here I am preparing to decloak and, hopefully, snag the booty and recloak without ever being seen. I enjoy stealth a great deal. Playing tricks on the AI warms my heart. It's just too bad the game doesn't reward it very well. Outside of a few burglar quests that rely on not being seen, any other stealth I do is purely for my own amusement.

In another instance I came across two trolls next to a treasure corpse. I stunned them both so they couldn't hit me to interrupt my looting, threw sand in the eyes of the melee troll so he couldn't chase me effectively and ran like the dickens. I felt like the cleverest guy in the world until I realized I'd wasted all that effort on a few silver worth of loot. When my best experiences net zero experience points, it calls the whole system into question.

Back to the subject of grouping, LotRO has an interesting way of making it optional. There are some instances you are required to complete for the main quest line. They help to make the storyline feel more grand. But for solo players they give you a power boost so that you can fight elites on equal footing, maybe even superior footing. It feels a bit artificial and takes a bit of the underdog feeling out of the fight, but it's better than being forced to find a group to advance the story.

Plus, just look at what's going on. I'm waist deep in blood, standing next to a major wizard (Radagast the Brown) while some horrible villain is telling us we'll never save the river maiden. There's a lot of epic by association going on there. :)

On the sillier side, this is me fighting a tree. I'm the tiny speck in the bottom middle left. :)

There are ents in the game. A ghost ent appears to stomp your enemy when you do a fellowship attack. But these are more Evil Dead type trees.

There's just something unnerving about watching trees wander around the landscape.

To sum up, I've had a very nice time exploring and sneaking and learning new abilities. Maybe it's just because I didn't play as a thief, but I never had this much fun in WoW.

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