And in Other News

Posted in Champions Online, City of Heroes, LotRO, Offline gaming, Online Gaming, Tabletop RP on September 12, 2016 by koljarn

Still chipping away at LotRO rep. Just need to finish the Ringlo Vale faction, and then I’m done with the repeatable quests. It’s a long, slow grind, really nothing worth reporting there.

I’ve been dabbling in Empyrion: Galactic Survival and Champions Online. I’ll address each of these separately.

Empyrion is very similar to Space Engineers, if you’ve ever tried that. It is, however, not nearly as complex, and your ability to create complex machines is fairly nonexistent. Despite that, I find it to be a better casual game, especially when it comes to playing on a planet. My verdict is that it is a keeper; I won’t play it all the time, but it is nice to have a sci-fi sandbox game that you can fire up and play for a day or two, set it aside, and pick up again whenever you like.

Champions Online was Cryptic’ s successor to City of Heroes. Basically, they sold City of Heroes to NCSoft (who eventually closed the game down, which is another topic entirely), then created a sub-par replacement game (Champions Online), which they sold to Perfect World, the same company that runs Star Trek Online. I was in the Champions Online open beta, and subscribed to the game when it was first released – I hated it. Mechanics were bad, the interface was clunky, and it was just not enjoyable – I quit after a month. However, my friend and I noticed this game on Steam about a month ago, and decided to give it a try. It turns out that many, but not all, of the issues from launch have been addressed, and the game is not bad. That is, so long as you are a subscriber. A free-to-play user will find themselves extremely limited, and buying content a la carte is prohibitively expensive. I’d say that this game is worth playing for a few months, but don’t go nuts.

Now, about subscribing – the ArcGames site interface is absolutely atrocious.  I thought it might be me, but both of my other friends playing this game encountered the same difficulties.  It temporarily locked out my PayPal account, it refused to take my primary credit card, and it denied my second credit card – sort of.  It said it denied the card, but it certainly charged it and began my subscription.  The web site needs some TLC from a dedicated programmer.

In tabletop gaming, I’ve been going through the books for “The One Ring” game. The mechanics seem derived from West End Game’s d6 System, and it looks pretty sound. I particularly like the rules for travel and Shadow (how the corruption of Middle Earth weighs on the character’s mind). If you enjoy RPGs set in Middle Earth, this is worth a look. I understand that they are working on some d20 rules, but I’ve never been satisfied adapting a genre to d20 – stick with the original ruleset, I think you’ll enjoy it more.

Interlude Amongst the Debris

Posted in LotRO, Offline gaming, Online Gaming, Tabletop RP on August 30, 2016 by koljarn

Still playing LotRO regularly. Unfortunately, there’s nothing much on which to report. I log in, do some reputation daily quests to work on my various Gondor factions, then I log out. If I were more ambitious, I might try some of the instances, but that’s more of a chore than a distraction.

So, I spend my spare gaming time on other pursuits – mainly sandbox games, such as Minecraft, Empyrion, and Space Engineers. I’ve also started to delve into The One Ring, which is a tabletop RPG that shows promise. I’ll compile entries on each of these in the future, but I’m really looking forward to the next chapter of LotRO.

The Dead Marshes Zone Was Not at All What I Excpected

Posted in Uncategorized on August 22, 2016 by koljarn

As I stated during my last post, I intended to go explore the Dead Marshes. I confess that I did not go into this with an open mind, and experience with previous products colored my thinking. Warning: RPG geek content ahead.

Once upon a time, when I was still attending High School, one of the games I played was MERP. That’s Middle Earth Role Playing, a long out-of-print ruleset which was a pretty good alternative to the usual TSR fare. Played isn’t really the right term – I ran the game, as a couple of parallel mini-campaigns in different geographic locations. One of the supplements I purchased for the Eastern campaign was “Dagorlad and the Dead Marshes.”

Dagorlad is just a dusty and rugged plain to the north of Mordor. Loosely translated, it just means “the field of battle.” It is where the primary fighting occurred during the War of the Last Alliance which brought an end to the Second Age. Many creatures fell here. Men, Elves, Orcs, Trolls; it was a massive Middle Earth mosh pit of death. The battle was so massive and took so long that many creatures were left to lie where they fell. Some were buried in shallow graves. A few of the fallen, we’re talking nobility or royalty, had full burial mounds erected over them. The point is, though, that Daglorlad is as much a graveyard as it is a battlefield. Graveyards are rarely nice places in most fantasy settings, but here is where it starts getting really nasty. The Anduin is close at hand, and over the centuries, the water percolated through the western side of Dagorlad, forming a ghastly swamp full of dead bodies and flooded graves. Take the Barrow Downs, and turn the “ick” factor up to eleven, and you get the image I’m trying to convey.

OK, enough about MERP. The point is, I had a pre-conceived notion that I’d be wading across pools with hidden, half-rotten wights lurching out of them, grasping at me, dodging will-o-wisp type lights which consume my power and health (similar to the Limrafn found around Evendim), and pushing through  muddy bogs which slowed my movement to a crawl when I left solid ground. What I found was a bunch of orcs, some insects, and a short story line. There was also a brief interlude which focused on the actual Fellowship characters, but overall I have to say that I was disappointed with the zone.

Turbine could have done so much more with the Dead Marshes, but don’t misunderstand me – I feel that this zone should not have been in the game anyway. I maintain that after the Shadows of Angmar and Moria storylines, we should have been hanging out with the Grey Company, not running off to one location or another in a haphazard way. The narrative does not flow properly when you travel all over like LotRO has been doing.

Anyway, I’ve pretty much finished out the Epic up to this point. I believe I’ll grind some reputation for the next few weeks. Maybe I’ll even talk to Bingo Boffin back in the Shire (I skipped that line in the past).

Dang Orcs! Get off of the Lawn!

Posted in LotRO, Online Gaming on August 16, 2016 by koljarn

Apologies for the late post. I’ve been out of town over the weekend, but I was able to move the Epic along, finally.

After exploring the Bacon Beacon Hills, getting frustrated by further latency issues (more on this later), and grinding my reputation to Kindred with the Riders of Rohan (how many times must I impress the same people?), I finally got to experience the Battle of the Pelennor Fields (AKA the Great Lawn of Minas Tirith).

Dealing with these incidents one at a time, I’ll talk about the Bacon Beacon Hills, first. The zone is mostly straightforward, except for the fact that there are invisible walls on the northern part of the zone to hem you in. I’ve always despised artificial barriers of this sort. However, I must note that this is one of those zones like Minas Tirith; the longer you stay here, the more your performance degrades (I observed the first core of my CPU spiking here). Every 30 to 60 minutes, I end up exiting from the game client and restarting it to clear things out. 30 minutes if I use a War Steed, 60 minutes if I use a riding horse – yes, it makes a difference. The brief storyline in this zone is engaging enough, but most of the quests involve FedEx type activities.

Having already gone through the Druedain quests, it was not a great effort to head back to the Wild Woods KOA where the army of Rohan was lounging around, and goading them to march south again. I know that it’s not exactly a sign of humility, but I get confused when someone offers me a quest to go distribute porridge to the fighting men of the army. Uh… I was going to go kill a truckload of orcs and trolls, but sure, if Bob is hungry and unwilling to walk 30 feet, I’ll go serve him. I’m beginning to realize why these guys ride into battle: they are too lazy to walk.

But, finally, I got to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Once the battle began, much of the latency that I had experienced in the Bacon Beacon Hills and in Minas Tirith itself just went away. I was amazed. I have a theory that once your client begins to track a dynamic object, such as a walking NPC, it just keeps tracking that object ad infinitum, thus causing your CPU usage to max out as you track more and more objects. During this battle, you spawn in completely different sub-zones repeatedly, moving from one chapter to the next, and it seems to clear out what you are tracking (thus, no latency/lag related to your CPU). The only problem I had in the middle of the battle was the game throwing a quest at me to run a instance which requires a small Fellowship. It may be a cool little instance, and it may be a lot of fun, but breaking in to the narrative to spring that on players isn’t good storytelling. Moving on, though, I did enjoy the rest of the Epic, and I’ve reached the end of what has been written so far. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed some of it so thoroughly that I may revisit it via Reflecting Pool.

Farewell, King of the Mark

So, what to do while waiting for the next part of the Epic Quest? Well, I had avoided going to the Dead Marshes when I first ran across them. Frankly, it was rather artificial and out of place – and I don’t see how you would have the time to ride from the coast to the edge of Mordor and then back again, which is what you would have to do if you followed this quest line at the time it first gets introduced. Also, I still feel that you job should be to stick near the Grey Company, not go haring off on your own. Slipping through the Wild Wood to find out what is delaying the Rohirrim is one thing; crossing a vast distance such as riding from Dol Amroth to Dagorlad is something else entirely. However, I will admit to some curiosity about the Marshes, and I do remember my exploration of the Barrow Downs rather fondly. So, it’s time to go see the Swamp o’ Dead Guys.  I’m bringing plenty of bug spray.

Swamp Stew

Posted in LotRO, Online Gaming on August 8, 2016 by koljarn

Go north, Gandalf said. Look for Théoden King and the Rohirrim, he said. Bring them to Minas Tirith. Pfft.

So, after a Gondorian soldier sent me to waste time with the Wild Men of the Woods (that whole area seems designed to get you to spend mithril coins on travel, just by frustrating you), I finally got around to talking with the Rohirrim, only to be sent back to the Beacon Hills.

The Beacon Hills (not to be confused with the Bacon Hills, back in the Shire) are home to a group of – wait for it – Gondorian beacons. It’s pretty much what you’d expect. A small stone platform on top of each hill with a bonfire on it. In addition, the northern third of the zone is where the Entwash River empties into the Anduin, pretty much forming a big marsh. Bring your mosquito repellant.

Also in this zone are groups of Variag raiders, especially in the marshes. Which is odd, because I always thought of the Variags as horsemen. Also, the Variag armor looks bizarre, like one of the developers thought “What if Kurgan from the original Highlander movie showed up in Middle Earth?” Anyway, they’re in the Beacon Hills, way behind enemy lines, and they’re slightly more than an annoyance (but only slightly).

So, my plan is to kidnap the leader of the Variag raiders and force them to watch Highlander 2. I bet it won’t take long to break their spirit with that particular torment.

Festivus Minimus

Posted in LotRO, Online Gaming, Uncategorized on August 1, 2016 by koljarn

It has been a slow week, as far as progress along the Epic quest goes. Festivals are a great distraction from grinding out quests, but when you are just returning to the game after an absence, they do tend to dilute your enthusiasm. I suspect this is due to simply trying to do too many things at once, instead of concentrating on just one.

Case in point: the Summer Festival fishing quests. They give decent rewards, but take 20 minutes each. That’s a major chunk of spare time on a weeknight. However, the fact that you can snag Anfalas Star-Lit Crystals with festival currency keeps me coming back, and it is starting to make me feel burnt out. So, I believe I’m going to limit my festival intake over the next week.

Something non festival related – a panicked Gondorian guardsman sent me into the woods to seek out the source of some drumming that he heard. I came across a Druedain village, which was entertaining and a bit of a quest hub, but it also got me thinking. What inspired Tolkien to dream up the Druedain? They’re part-Pictish and part-Aboriginal. Almost everything in Tolkien’s work seem to have roots in European history and mythology, but I’m not sure where these guys fit in.

Cities and Celebrations

Posted in LotRO, Online Gaming, Uncategorized on July 25, 2016 by koljarn

Sometimes, you need to break your own rules. I had been avoiding the Epic quest line for a few weeks now while friends were catching up. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that they have been sidetracked in other games, and in real-world activities. So, I’ve decided to go ahead and start pushing my way through the Epic once again. If my friends are ever able to join me again, I can always use a reflecting pool, to assist with the instanced parts.

Last week, I voiced my displeasure with performance in Minas Tirith. Of course, the Epic takes you right back to the city on a long series of FedEx quests. The conspiracy theorist in me says that this was intentionally designed, to encourage player to buy Mithril coins so they can teleport between quest sites. Who knows, maybe it’s true. Not a big deal for me, since I’ve been piling up Turbine Points for ages, but it could be considered gouging to a Free-to-Play user. Once again, the Tower of Ecthelion is in my rear view mirror. I’m Pelennor bound.

In server-specific news, there was a in-game concert on Landroval. Actually, it was the eighth time this annual concert was held. Called “Weatherstock,” it is held at the summit of Weathertop (hence the name), and lasts quite a few hours. There was quite a bit of creativity on display, as well as the requisite griefing attempt which crashed the zone for a while (it isn’t an online game without an idiot showing up). Overall, it was a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. I’m not a huge fan of in-game events, but they are important part of developing an online community. I will say that I enjoyed it enough that, should Warner renew the license for the Middle Earth IP, I would attend again next year.

Finally, the Summer Festival began over the weekend. I was pleasantly surprised that you can pick up Anfalas Crystals for legendary items using the festival currency. Part of why I sometimes avoided the festivals in the past is a sense that I should be working on content, levelling, or gearing up. This, at least, allows me to enjoy the festival and still work on my legendary items while I relax and go fishing. I approve.

Exploring the White City

Posted in LotRO, Online Gaming on July 19, 2016 by koljarn

I have been avoiding tackling any of the Epic Quest storyline, as I’m waiting for my adventuring companions to catch up to my current chapter. However, I have been freely exploring and undertaking the local quest content, other than the Epic.

Having pushed my way through Itilien and into Minas Tirith, I like what I’ve seen, but I’ve run smack into the limitations of the game client at this point. Because LotRO is an older game, it rally doesn’t utilize multiple core CPUs all that well (after all, the game engine was written a decade ago). The main gate area of Minas Tirith is especially bad; the models and details thend to pop in slowly, and the performance degrades even further, the longer you move around the city (which indicates a memory leak as well). Remember Wulf’s Cleft back in Dunland? This is why all of the troops in the camp were actually 2d paintings rather than full 3d models. After a couple of hours, the game dumps me at the desktop. There are multiple posts on the official forums about this, some of them with in-depth analyses with charts and graphs. The bottom line is that you can expect a lot of crashing while in Minas Tirith (or restarting), as you are going to spend a lot of time there. The quests in the city are pretty well done; it feels like your point of view has switched to Pippin’s, which is no great shock.

I have also begun to top off my skirmish soldier’s stats. Skirmishing remains one of the things that LotRO gets right. It is the oppopsite of an Epic Battle, like Helm’s Deep; these are small battle, but the outcome of them feels significant. It doesn’t hurt that skirmishes are great ways of racking up experience and coinage.

So, that’s it for this entry; hopefully, I will have gotten to push past Pelargir next week.

The Road to Osgiliath

Posted in LotRO, Online Gaming, Uncategorized on July 11, 2016 by koljarn

So, a solid weekend of gaming. I don’t know if you could term this a serious return to LotRO, but I have certainly been enjoying the Gondor content so far. I think a moving to Landroval was a good choice. The people have been friendly, for the most part, and they even had a concert of sorts outside of Bree this weekend. I spent a little bit of time there, but a couple of my friends signed into the game, and I had to leave to meet up with them. The music system in LotRO is something that I wish other companies would emulate. It lends itself well to in-game social events, which is something missing from many other games.

The Gondor content has been enjoyable, so far. Aside from a few meaningless FedEx and Kill Ten Rats type of quests, Central Gondor feels right – it feels like LotRO used to feel. Pacing is slow, but steady and story-focused. Combat in LotRO is known to be slower-paced than other MMOs, but my Champion seems to deal with most opposition quickly enough that I can’t complain. I’m not up to Minas Tirith, yet; I only just finished exploring Pelargir. I completed the Epic Battle for the city, but I’m not a huge fan of the “Big Battle System.” To be perfectly honest, I feel like a third wheel in just about any Epic Battle; I found that I still enjoy a good Skirmish, though. Trouble in Tuckborough, Thievery and Mischief, and the Defense of the Prancing Pony all remain fun and atmospheric. I heartily recommend Skirmishing if you want to level up, or snag some new gear (it won’t be raid quality, but it will work fine for levelling and soloing).

Atmospherically, the game remains stunning. The environment is a major reason that I always kept returning to LotRO over the years. The graphical upgrades that came with 18.2 make the game even more of a feast for the eyes. Some of the images that I’ve seen, such as the view of the Beacons of Gondor near Calembel, the gulls wheeling over the ships docked at the quays of Dol Amroth, or the dark, foreboding skies that become more threatening as you travel further east, all of these are beautifully done and heighten the experience. Something I really miss, however, is the Chance Thomas soundtrack, which made the original zones, Moria, and Rohan even more enjoyable. I know more than a few people who play without music at all, however, so that may not be important to everyone.

I’m not sure how much life Turbine has in them, but I hope that we will at least get to the battle at Morannon. I suspect that they will add part of the Dead Marshes as well – I have mixed feelings about that, but it could be interesting.

Fell Deeds Awake

Posted in LotRO, Online Gaming on July 7, 2016 by koljarn

It has been many years since I last made an entry in this blog. There are a number of reasons for this, such as work, prioritization of time elsewhere, or a plain old lack of effort. Frankly, I sometimes wonder if writing in this blog wasn’t/isn’t just an act of narcissism; I’m certainly not a recognized video/computer game critic, and the subjective opinions I express here are just that – completely subjective, and probably of little use to anyone else.

Enough introspection.

In my last entry, I wrote about a revamp of the skirmish rewards system in LotRO. It seems appropriate, then, that I write about LotRO now. Update 18.2 was published on 7/5/2016, adding new featured instances, new housing features, and a new raid. If it seems like Turbine is catering to their users, they definitely are; Small instances are great for casual players, the housing additions make the RP crowd smile, and a new raid can be seen as reaching out to more hardcore players. I’ve seen plenty of criticism about all of the features in 18.2, though; just some more proof that you can’t satisfy everyone. It seems to me that just a few days after the release of the new features, it is a bit early to make any final judgments, though. From my own perspective, I like what I have seen.

I’m still playing catch-up in LotRO. I play from time to time, but take long breaks in-between. When I last played Burhhelm, I had arrived at Dol Amroth and done a few of the city quests. I don’t mind going through a grind, if I can play with a few friends on occasion, but grinding out reputation completely solo can be a chore. So, LotRO fell by the wayside in favor of other games for a bit. I was pleasantly, surprised, however, after I made another visit and found that large additional zones had been added. Exploring new areas is something I enjoy, so I decided to jump back into the game. So far, I have not regretted it (note, however, that I am not in any sort of end-game grind mode to try and get better gear).

I do like the epic quest line in Gondor, so far. However, it is noteworthy that we have strayed far from the original Shadows of Angmar concept; we were originally running interference for the Fellowship of the Ring by making a general nuisance of ourselves in Angmar, thus drawing attention away from the Ring-bearer. Things really started to diverge during the Mines of Moria expansion, and went fully off-track during the Siege of Mirkwood. Following in the tracks of the Fellowship seems like a sure fire way to draw more attention to their errand. Joining forces with the Grey Company did get the story back on track, but then Turbine had us hop from one side of the Misty Mountains to the other. As much as I absolutely loved the Riders of Rohan expansion, we really had no reason (story-wise) to visit Stangard, Wildermoor, or Eastern Rohan. While I was not a fan of the “Big Battles” of the Helms Deep expansion, I did like that we got back on track, following Aragorn and the Grey Company, essentially returning to the original concept of running interference for Frodo and Sam. To me, it feels like the game is back on course (plot-wise).

Another part of why I’m enjoying the game again may be due to the server consolidation. I used to play on Vilya, which was never heavily populated. However, it had become more than a little sparse. I understand not running into another player in the wilderness (the size of the LotRO map is huge), but it was becoming rare to even see another player in major towns. My circle of friends and I transferred to Landroval. Not the most densely populated server, but it has a respectable number of players, with an active player base. I haven’t attended any player-run events, yet (I haven’t done that sort of thing since I played UO, back before Y2K). However, I might take a look; we will see. I’m not looking to join a Kinship or anything similar, but it might be nice to make a few friends and acquaintances on this server.