Wednesday, October 9, 2013

LOTRO Revisited - 1 to 20

So last week I finally succumbed to the pressure brought about by the excellent new trailer for The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug, and my own twangs of nostalgia, and did something I've been thinking about doing for quite some time now.  I reinstalled The Lord of the Rings Online.  I was a beta tester for the game, and a subscriber back when the game launched, and this is the first time I've returned since the game went free to play, so I thought I might talk about the experience of coming back.

The Return
When I first logged in with the last character I played, my character was right where I left her - standing on the side of some hill in the Lone Lands.  And I looked across the rolling dry hills and thought Oof.. the game's graphics aren't holding up too well to the test of time.  But as it turned out, that wasn't strictly true.  I really think it's just more that the Lone Lands themselves that aren't that appealing.  As I've traveled about the land, many of the zones and lands still look incredibly good.  And yes the graphics engine is starting to show it's age a bit, but the art direction - especially in the elven lands, is still incredibly strong and holds up quite well.

At first I was very hesitant to create yet another character.  The Lord of the Rings Online is one of those earlier games of mine where I dipped into many pools when it comes to classes, but didn't go very deep into any of them.  But a few of my G+ friends were also planning on making a brief return, and they were going to create new characters for the experience, so I said All what the hell, and thus Syriandil, A Blade of Renown (as she's currently known among the men of Bree) was created and set about her journey.  And I'm really glad I did, to be honest.  Though the bulk of the game still feels mostly the same, quite a bit has changed - most of it for the better - and the game does an incredibly good job of educating you as you go.  So I left on the tooltips, and thus was reintroduced to the game in a satisfying manner as I went along.

Why are we here?
I think it's important to be honest with yourself about your intentions with these games, in order to properly shape both your expectations and your experience.  And being honest, I knew I have no intentions of making this my permanent home, or to even necessarily stay for any significant length of time.  Guild Wars 2 is still for me the absolute best value of in fun for the money for me, and I'll be returning soon.  But there is one experience in the MMO sphere Guild Wars 2 really doesn't do a great job of delivering upon - and that is straight up questing.  And make no mistake - I love questing. So my plan was to take the game at it's own pace.  Not to try to cram through the content, skipping areas I already know about, rushing to some ill-conceived notion of rapid advancement, but to relax, spend some time enjoying the game for what it is, and see where it takes us.  And in truth - I've been having an absolute blast.

Because if there's one thing that Lord of the Rings Online does especially well - especially in that 1 to 20 level frame - it's questing.  As an elf, I started on the snowy banks outside of Thorin's Hall, and then worked my way into and through the dappled forests of Ered Luin.  And the story and the characters and the environment absolutely pulled me right through the content.  There is of course the epic questline that advances the central story, and then side quest hubs are sensibly placed along the way.  Much of the original running back and forth has been removed, and even then what running about that you do has been alleviated by the early availability of mounts.  Yes it's a pretty linear experience, but for me that is exactly what I wanted.  It was perfect.  Some of the early quests used to require a group to proceed, and several of those were essentially small dungeon instances.  Those have been changed to be solo-able now - including the Great Barrows run. As the game stands now, though you can group, there is no need to group until you get to level 20, at which point the group finder becomes available to you - another addition to the game since I played it last.

And so it was that, after just a few days I found myself at the level where, to be honest, most of my alts had reached, and I had hardly noticed the passing of time and levels at all. Now that skirmishes are available, and the group finder is unlocked, I suspect the experience will shift somewhat, so it will be interesting to see how it does.  But I'll continue to take my time and follow the story and my character's ambitions where they will, and we'll see how it goes.  My plan is to remain in the game at least until December 16th, when The Desolation of Smaug releases - as sort of a tribute to the franchise and the movies, which I'm very much looking forward to.  It will be interesting to see if the game has set it's hooks in me enough to keep me beyond that.

The Community
Lord of the Rings Online is at a really interesting place in terms of its playerbase.  It's very similar to where City of Heroes was in its latter days.  It's a place that is unique to MMOs of a certain age, and it's a great place to be in - if it can be sustained.  And that is, the only people playing Lord of the Rings Online are people that love the game.  The hard core level grinders and achievement alphas have all come through and moved on to the next bright and shiny, and what's left are the folks that truly want to be there.  And yes, to be sure, I'm playing on Landroval, which has always been the roleplaying server, but even as such I was pretty amazed at what I saw walking around the game.  Inside the Prancing Pony Inn, you'll find a bard playing a lute by the fire, with a few people sitting before him, listening.  Throughout the inn, people are sitting, socializing, having quite conversations in the various corners of the inn's hallways.  Outside, in the market square, a group of minstrels in matching outfits have formed, playing an incredibly complicated and well-composed medley of songs, and a crowd has formed in front of them, clapping, laughing and dancing to the music.  Throughout the town, people are coming and going on horseback, moving from one side of the town to the other, going about their business.  In other words - people aren't just playing the game - they're spending time in the game.  They're doing the sort of things you might actually expect to be found in that setting.  And for those that want to immerse themselves in the game's environment a bit more, LOTRO provides them with a rich set of tools - from playable instruments, to a flexible emote system, to a complete vanity clothing closet that allows your character to don any one of a number of outfits beyond the armor they have equipped.  It's a bit of a perilous place to be in, to be honest.  In previous games where I've found the community at this stage, though the community was fiercely loyal, they were not enough to sustain the game, and the doors of those games were not open much longer.  Only Turbine knows if LOTRO is actually making enough money to sustain itself, but I'm hoping that it is, for worlds and communities like this are too few these days.

Let's talk about free-to-play a bit
People that complain about Guild Wars 2's pricing models need to go back and spend some time in a true free-to-play game, and be reminded of what a cash shop driven business model can truly be like.  And that's not to say that LOTRO's free-to-play cash shop is bad - it's not.  In fact as far as these things go, it's actually quite good.  Much of the original game is still there and can be played in it's original form.  But many enhancements have been added, and opportunities to purchase those are worked into just about every bit of the interface.  So you are constantly being reminded that, if you wish to speed up whatever it is you're doing - questing, crafting, riding - for a price, you can.

Having played Guild Wars 2 for some time now, and then returning to LOTRO's business model, my opinion on these business models has been pretty firmly reshaped.  I now truly believe that the segregation of your playerbase into these multiple tiers of business plans is, well, just flat out harmful to the long term health of the game.  First of all, it puts a huge burden on the game's designers.  Every aspect of the game, as it is introduced or modified, must be broken up into multiple versions, and decisions have to be made as to how much do you give the free players, how much to you give the premium players, and how much do you give to the subscribers.  And this decision, and then maintenance of those systems, must be made for every single mechanic.  From bag space, to the auction house to riding mount speeds - all parts of it must be considered.

And from the player standpoint, as a non-subscriber, you're constantly re-evaluating every purchase decision.  You're thinking - do I buy this, or should I just go ahead and get a subscription for a few months, because it'll be cheaper in the long run.  And from there, making the jump to Well maybe I just won't buy it at all is too easy.  In Guild Wars 2, there is exactly one and only one business model.  You buy the game, and after that, there are things you can choose to buy, or not, in the store.  But there are no player tiers in any way.  So I never second guess any buying decision I make for things in the game.  I either decide to buy them, or I don't, but I never have to worry about whether or not I'm making the right purchase decision - if I should have purchased, or subscribed.  Furthermore, I truly believe that when the designers have enough confidence in their game to trust the players to a single business model - it in turn engenders confidence in the players in the game.  And in the long term, they buy more.  In fact, I think that even though Final Fantasy XIV has gone with a subscription model - which I think in today's market is going to be incredibly tough to sustain - the fact that there is exactly one and only one business model for that game, makes it a superior business strategy to the tiered one.  You're either in or your out, but once you are in, you're not having to second guess each and every purchase decision.

An Unexpected Journey
Business model analysis aside, it's been wonderful being back in Middle Earth.  Seeing the Prancing Pony, working through the story and chatting with Aragorn and Gandalf; visiting Weathertop - all have been good for my roleplaying soul.  I don't know how much interaction Turbine and Warner Brothers are able to have with Wingnut Studios, but man if I where them I'd be marketing the hell out of the game right now in conjunction with the Hobbit movies, and trying to create crossovers in any way I could.  I haven't seen much in that aspect though, so I can only guess that there are business reasons why that can't be done.  But if you love Middle Earth as much as I do, then don't rely on marketing to get you back.  Spend a night patching up the game, and then spend a few more nights returning to its lands.  You don't have to stay, but it's worth it just to ride through those forests and to visit the places that are familiar in your imagination.  And who knows, you may find LOTRO's rich game mechanics, robust, well-realized world, and upcoming Helms Deep expansion enough to entice you to stay for awhile.  Now if you'll excuse me, I have an elvish blade to smith, and goblins to smite with it! Until then..

Mae Govannon! 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hearthstone - Secret Mage

So let me start right off by saying, straight up - I'm not a good Hearthstone player. I've played quite a few games, and I've lost way more than I've won. If I had to rate myself, I'd say that I'm no more than a fair to mediocre player. So I was more than a bit hesitant to put up a deck recommendation. But after trying out a variety of heroes, and a variety of deck styles, this was my first combination that I put together entirely on my own, and it's been getting me quite a few wins of late in ranked play. So I thought I'd share what has become my favorite deck: Secret Mage.  Read on for the details.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hooked on Hearthstone

So yeah, I got it bad.  When I find myself completely eschewing some of my favorite MMO's to spend time trying to figure out how to get one more win with a priest deck, I know I'm in trouble.  I suspected Hearthstone would, indeed, scratch that dormant CCG itch that rides in the primitive part of my cerebral cortex, and I was spot on.  Here's a few of the reasons why I'm spending so much time pouring over shiny virtual cards like the nerd I am.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Guild Wars 2 - On Personal and Living Stories

I touched on this briefly at the beginning of my series on the Living Story, but I think it's worthy of a post in and of itself.  +Jonathan Doyle posted a good-sized ramble the other day expressing his discontent with the story so far in Guild Wars 2, and in particular his character's role in it.  So this is partially a response to that discussion, and in part more of a general commentary on MMO's and player's roles within them.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Guild Wars 2 - Back to School!

So keeping up with their absurdly good rate of content releases every two weeks, yesterday the Back To School Content Release came out in Guild Wars 2.  The highlight of this release is ostensibly, the return of the Super Adventure Box - affectionately known as the SAB.  But the other signficant part of this patch is the raising of the max level of crafting for three of the professions (hunstman, weaponsmith, and artificer) to 500, and the added ability to craft ascended weapons.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Final Fantasy XIV - A Server Rebooted

It's been a rough couple of days for the Final Fantasy franchise.  What was originally intended to be a couple of days of early access turned into a couple of days of no access, as the North American and European data centers were plagued by problem after problem.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Guild Wars 2 - Clockwork Chaos!

So I haven't written anything in some time.  To be honest, I've felt a great sense of malaise when it comes to the blog and putting material up.  I've just had a hard time feeling like I could say something that hasn't been said a million times already by other people, in ways probably more effective than I could.

But I have been kind of itching to put together some video of some sort.  It just seems like what everyone's doing these days, and other than the teasers I built for Atomic City Adventures, I really haven't done much creation of YouTube content well, at all.  And I wanted to try it.  So I did, and you can see the result below.  And I gotta say, I'm pretty pleased because essentially I took 39 minutes of video footage and trimmed it down to a brisk 3 1/2 minutes.  Well to be precise, I didn't do it per se, PowerDirector 9.0 did it, but you get the idea.  Now you might think this would produce something that is chaotic and disjointed, but actually, the Clockwork Invasion event is really just about that chaotic and disjointed!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Guild Wars 2 Living Story So Far - Part 2

So with the completion of Flame and Frost, the players were immediately presented with a new set of challenges - the unrest around the refugees that the Consortium had convinced to settle in Southsun Cove. The events in Southsun played out over two updates, and during that time we encounter some familiar faces, old friends, and hidden enemies.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Guild Wars 2 Living Story So Far - Part 1

So if you're playing Guild Wars 2, and I would image that if you're here then you are, then by now you're quite familiar with ArenaNet's experimental, and somewhat controversial methodology of rolling out their content - the Living Story.  Personally I'm a huge fan of the attempt, and it has done a pretty good job of keeping me hooked in a game that I otherwise might not have been.  But it's not been without it's share of criticism, and a significant amount of the criticism relates to the story itself.  People are saying that the story - such as it is - is difficult to follow.  It's unclear who the players are, what they're motivations are, and even if you know who they are, they're not doing very much to make you care. 

Now I for one have been enjoying the story itself.  I'm not talking about the mechanics of the changes - which could be the subject of an entirely other blog, but the actual lore itself.  And the reason is - it's about ordinary people.  The story isn't about extraordinary characters destined at birth to do amazing things, and then fulfilling that destiny.  It's about people like you and I - ordinary folks, tasked with some unpleasant tasks, and making the best of it that they can.  The other reason that I'm enjoying it so far is that it is, for the most part, a human story.  That's not to say that is has only humans in it - far from that.  But that it is based on human interactions.  Greed, deceit, betrayal, and of course, some politics for good measure - these are the notions upon which the story is being built so far.

But I will agree that the story itself has been somewhat hard to follow so far.  So to that end, I thought I'd start putting together some recaps.  A summarization, if you will, of each chapter of the Living Story, as it unfolds.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Reorganization in Progress!

As you may or may not have noticed, many of my blogs posts are starting to take the form of beginner's guides and hopefully helpful how-to's.  I rarely play these games at the highest level, so the type of information I provide isn't typically geared towards the high end player.  But I do play in what I like to refer to as hardcore casual.  That is, even though I may only brush across the various aspects of a game at the casual level, I still play a lot.  And it's been gratifying to sum up the information I come across in a form that hopefully helps others get their feet on the ground in whatever their MMO of choice is.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Guild Wars 2 - Southsun Cove Survival Guide

Welcome to Southsun Cove! A tropical paradise with miles of pristine sandy beaches, spectacular coral reefs for diving, and face-eating crab monsters!  So the Southsun Cove Living Story is in full swing, and we're all descending upon the newly revamped zone to help the settlers get resettled and to put down the frenzied wildlife.  And for many of you, this may well be the first time you've been to the southern isle.  And if this is your first time, you might have found yourself in for a unpleasant surprise, because Southsun Cove is, without question, the most difficult general PvE zone in the game.  The monsters of Southsun have more hitpoints, hit harder, and use nastier abilities than those you'll find anywhere outside of a dungeon instance.  So if you've found yourself making trips back from the waypoint after taking on a single, general mob, I thought I'd throw together a few tips on the things to look for when fighting some of these nasty denizens.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Guild Wars 2 - A Recounting of Flame and Frost

In which Syrene Harmony, she who fought alongside the members of Destiny's Edge to bring down the dragon Zhaitan, recounts the events leading up to and through the Molten Alliance Uprising.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Guild Wars 2 - Choose your Experience

This morning I was watching the PGA Championship while exploring Snowden Drifts in Guild Wars 2.  And it occurred to me one of the things I really enjoy about this game is what a good job they do of providing not just a variety of experiences, but experiences that require different levels of intensity.  And it is that variety that is part of the game's appeal.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Seven Nights of Neverwinter

Last week Cryptic and Perfect World Entertainment took the wraps off of their take on the Dungeons and Dragons universe, releasing Neverwinter Online for everyone to play that hasn't yet ponied up some cash for the title, in what they refer to as Open Beta.  That is to say - they launched the game.  I wanted to take a bit of time with the game before writing up the prerequisite blog on it, and while level 21 is hardly anything that resembles mastery, I do feel comfortable enough now with the game's systems and mechanics to put up some impressions.  So let's get to it!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Guild Wars 2 - Casual Crafting Guide

I'm always a little hesitant to write posts like these, because you think well six months into the game, who needs a crafting guide?  But the fact is Guild Wars 2 crafting system can be more than a little obtuse.  It feels similar to crafting in other MMO's, but it's just enough different that you get into and you're all.. wait.. I can't progress at all!  And even now, I still see enough myths being pushed around, things like crafting is worthless before you're level 80, or you can' produce anything useful while crafting, that I have to think perhaps a fundamentals guide is, in fact, still useful.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Defiance Beginner's Guide - Arkfalls

So once again, granted, this may be a bit late, and most of you folks that stop by probably know everything I'm putting out here already.  But it does seem like more people are purchasing Defiance and checking the game out, so I'm hopeful that at least some of this may be useful.  Arkfalls, unlike the weapon modification system, are actually pretty straightforward.  But there are some finer points to them, and there are certainly plenty of opportunities for confusion when the skies darken, the wind blows, and red icons start popping up across your map, so hopefully this will get you on the right track and have you rackin' up the damage numbers like a pro!  Or, if nothing else, at least allow you to have a good time.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Defiance Beginner's Guide - Weapon Mods

So quite honestly, I think most of you that read my blog (all six of you), that are also playing Defiance (a subset of two) probably already have this all figured out.  But I'm going to go ahead and write it up, because well really, for no other reason than I when I was trying to suss this out, I wished someone else had written something like this up already.  So if you are actually just getting started - if you've seen enough screenshots and tweets or whatevever and the post launch discussion has got you interested enough in giving this a try, then maybe this will help you with what is probably one of the more useful, but least well explained aspect of the game - modding your weapon.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Defiance Beta Weekend

So this weekend Trion took the wraps off of Defiance for real,  activating their last beta weekend before launch, and lifting the NDA.  I played Defiance during one previous beta weekend, and at that time the game really didn't grab me.  As we're so close to launch, I decided to update my client, and give the game one more shot.  I'm glad I did.  Hit the break for the details!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Guild Wars 2 - Honor of the Waves - Story Mode

Our group has been working their way through all of the dungeons in story mode, so this is now the sixth one I've completed, and it only occurred to me yesterday that I haven't written a blog on a single one - which arguably makes me the worst MMO blogger evah!  I'll attempt to remedy that in the future, so we'll start with last night's dungeon - Honor of the Waves.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Someone's Stealing my Content

This'll be a short post.  When I stopped hosting this site on my own, and switched it over to blogger, I let the original domain name for the site expire.  It was immediately picked up by one of those domain name squatting companies.  No biggie I thought, it's not like I was making a huge amount of money off of the domain name.

But now I see that whoever is using the domain name is now also copying my blog content and reproducing it at their location.  Not all of my content, apparently, but they have some of my oldest articles, and they have my most recent article, complete with photos linked directly back to my blogger site.

I'm not sure exactly how to proceed.  I'm going to start with contacting the hosting company and asking them to cease and desist.  And if that doesn't work, maybe file a complaint with the DMCA.  If you have suggestions, thoughts, or comments, please feel free to comment below.

In the mean time, please update your links to the link above, and to delete any references you might have in Reader or anywhere else to the original domain name.  I actually discovered this yesterday when I noticed my twitter profile was still linking to the old original domain name, and I followed the link and discovered to my surprise most of my content.

An Update to this - 3/14/13

I left a message at the number listed at the domain registry asking the owner to take down the content.  Within minutes I received a text reply saying they would pull the content down today.  So there ya go. Hopefully they'll follow through, but I appreciated the quick reply, and am glad to see that people are willing to do the right thing.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Nike Kinect Training

So you're thinking.. what the hell is an article on Nike Kinect Training doing here amidst what has become pretty much an entirely Guild Wars 2 blog!  Well it's still a game, technically, and it's something I'm doing.  And as I've spent no small amount of time trying out various exercise games and programs, thought I'd write up some comments on why I've settled on this one.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Guild Wars 2 Casual 80 - Runes & Trinkets

So in my previous casual 80 article, I talked about evaluating your options for getting your first full set of exotic armor, and setting some goals based on that.  Once you get your armor, well then what?  Well that leaves upgrading your armor, filling out your trinkets, and getting your hands on some sweet weapons.  I'll save weapons for yet another post, and this morning we'll talk a bit about filling out your trinkets and selecting armor upgrades.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Guild Wars 2 - Gettin' Your Daily On

So in the most recent round of patches at the end of January, ArenaNet introduced some changes to the Daily Achievement.  And, as often is the case when change is introduced, if you were to spend any time on the Guild Wars 2 forums, well the new changes have done nothing less than destroy the game!  For whatever reason, I haven't found the new dailies all that onerous, and I actually like the fact that I want to spend some time thinking about how to satisfy them.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Victory at Last

So it's been only, what, six months now since the game has released, and just last night I finally finished my personal story with one of my characters.  I gathered four brave companions.. okay two brave companions and two complete strangers, but still, five of us ventured into the lost city of Arah, and took the fight to Zhaitan himself.  The ensuing experience was both extraordinarily gratifying while at the same time somewhat disappointing.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Guild Wars 2 Casual Solo - Armor at 80

So you're level 80. Now what?  If you've been doing dungeons, or participating extensively in WvW and sPvP, you quite likely already know what to do.  You're just going to keep doing what you've been doing, and get some great gear in the process of doing it.  But what if you're like me?  What if you're a casual player, that mostly plays solo, who's reached level 80 purely through the process of just playing along, completing renown hearts and dynamic events, with maybe a bit of crafting?  You know you want to improve your character, but you're not entirely clear on just exactly where to go and what to do.  There are a myriad of choices and options available, but it's all just a confusing mess.  Do I grind dungeons now?  Should I be farming orichalcum? How do I get a crazy weapon?  In this post I'm going to attempt to sort out some of your options, and hopefully give you some hints on how to get started.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Keepin' it Fresh - GW2 Dual Sword Mesmer Build

So it's been a few weeks since my last post.  Three, to be exact, but that's not for lack of something to write.   There have been a ton of exciting news announcements and things going on - especially with respect to Guild Wars 2 - I've just been too tired to lazy to get off my duff and write about them.  And too, I was feeling a bit of gamer malaise.  I took some time off from Guild Wars 2, just because I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do next with Syrene - my level 80 mesmer.  But after dabbling in a few other games, I came back, and came to the realization I'd been playing this scepter & sword phantasm build for like - forever.  Maybe it was time to change things up a bit.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My New Year's Resolution

I'm going to chat just a bit about new year's resolutions.  A lot of people like to blow off new year's resolutions, because they have no realistic expectations of actually achieving them.  For myself, that's never been a reason not to make them.  I relish new years resolutions - I usually make two or three a year at least.  I've been making the same two default ones - Eat Better, Exercise More, for the past five years.  But for once, I want to talk about one I'm actually endeavoring to succeed in.