Sunday, November 29, 2009

Marchomir the Undying

Well, I said my LOTRO Warden was getting close to the tricky "Undying" title..

..made it, no problems.

This thread on the LOTRO forums was helpful, although I didn't follow all the advice there. In particular, I did a lot of lower level quests, simply because I was questing through The Shire for the first time (my other two characters are a dwarf and a man), and wanted to enjoy all the content. Doing quests below your level is obviously quite a safe way to level, but also slow, and for many people, the Undying attempt goes wrong not due to trying to do something difficult, but simply bad luck like a network dropout or game crash while in combat. So the slower you level, the more risk there is of that happening.

But yeah, I just ground it out, solo'd all the group quests in The Shire (although outlevelling them when I did), went to Bree-land at about level 17, and popped out quests there until I hit 20. Oh, and I had top-quality crafted weapons all the way due to my Champion being a weaponsmith, upgrading to a new crit crafted weapon every two levels. So my damage output was pretty high. That went a long way towards reducing the risk of multi-enemy fights.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Turbine finally got me to open my wallet

Well, Turbine's second free "welcome back to Lord of the Rings Online" week did the trick and got me to open my wallet. I found I spent the week pretty much playing LOTRO to the exclusion of other MMOs, and the $9.95 "buy Mines of Moria including a free month's subscription" deal was finally too good to pass up.

So, now, with the Moria expansion installed, I was able to check out the two new (OK, they're not new any more, but new to me!) classes, Warden and Rune-Keeper. Inspired by this post on Dub's Diatribe, I decided to try a Warden, and I'm quite glad I did - I'm finding the "gambit" system quite fun, and it certainly seems to be a unique mechanic amongst the many MMOs I've played.

The super-quick summary is that it extends the "combo point / finisher" system used by WoW's rogues, LOTRO's champions and WAR's witch-hunters by having three different colours of combo points. Different colour combinations lead to different finishers, starting off with simple two-colour combinations (e.g. green-red is "Persevere", an attack that also places a mild heal-over-time on me) and apparently builds up to mighty five-colour combos like green-yellow-green-yellow-green, "Conviction", which places a heal-over-time on your entire group and also transfers threat from every group member to you. So far the most complex ones I have are a couple of three-colour combos, it does a good job of gradually increasing your options, with a new gambit being available every couple of levels.

I'm currently level 17 on Marchomir the Warden, and have not yet died. So I'm closing in on the apparently fairly challenging "the Undying" title which is awarded for reaching level 20 without dying. Once I hit, I think, level 10, I decided this might be fun to focus on. I'll be happy to get it, but I will confess that as I get closer and it feels like more is at stake, it is sucking some of the joy out of the gameplay. I'm not about to flex my muscles trying to solo a fellowship quest with a risk like that. Oh well, it'll be over soon one way or the other, then I can cut loose!

Friday, November 13, 2009

So much gaming going on #2

Over at Player Versus Developer, Green Armadillo posts about having too much gaming to do and not enough hours in the week. I know the feeling! I'm no less busy than I was last time I posted about so much gaming going on.

I landed in the closed beta of Allods Online, a new free-to-play MMO coming out of Russia. That runs for two weeks. I've only played one session last night, not enough to put any real thoughts together, but it's a slick and polished looking game, with a pleasingly different feel to its setting - it starts you off on board a flying ship locked in a cannon battle with another from the opposite faction, a far cry from the usual small village in a lightly forested, lightly hilly piece of Olde Englishe countryside.

Mechanically, I didn't see anything particularly original in my brief play so far - probably the most novel thing is that the combat doesn't seem to have any auto-attacks, it's purely the usage of special attacks. My biggest criticism so far? I have to say, it takes a tediously long time to beat a lower level enemy to death. The actual pace of the cut and thrust of combat feels fine - it just takes a. lot. of. hits. to take down an enemy - even one that poses no particular threat to you.

And now Lord of the Rings Online has just kicked off another free week. I kind of feel like the last one ran out before I made a conscious decision about whether to resubscribe or not, so I'll give it another chance. Especially since I read over at Keen & Graev's blog that Turbine are looking at re-working the epic questline to make it much more solo-friendly, to combat the problem that in a mature game with most of the players sitting at the level cap, it's not so easy for new players to find people to group with while levelling. This was something that bummed me during my last free week, as my quest log filled up with fellowship quests and I didn't see a lot of people to try to do them with.

On top of that, things are working out nicely on Frostmourne, my new WoW server. I hadn't raided since mid-July, but my freshly reassembled guild has run Trial of the Crusader 10-man the last two weeks. It's a fun little raid, for sure. No trash, five fights which are all pretty fresh and fun. Not very hard (talking normal mode here of course, not hard mode). And it's great to be raiding with the guys again, with all the trash talk on Vent and so on. I'm also (finally!) levelling a death knight, just so I have an alt on the new server, and it is definitely a fun class. I should have tried it sooner! Halfway through level 74 at the moment.

So, the stuff I was up to last time? Obviously I got my Alganon thoughts posted when the NDA dropped - and some links sent my way by Tobold and Lum the Mad gave me some rather unexpected traffic. I doubt half a dozen people had ever read anything I posted prior to that, and suddenly there were thousands of hits. Not to mention that it was very nice to get linked up from two blogs that I've been reading and enjoying for quite a long time!

Fallen Earth, to be honest, I didn't get a whole lot of play in during their free trial. Some, and it certainly felt better than it did when I tried it during beta. Didn't quite grab me though, and I can't exactly put my finger on why not. I think the hybrid of regular MMO combat with more shooter-style action was a big part of it. I'm sure a lot of people like it, but it just doesn't hit the spot for me.

So, plenty to do! And so few hours in the week! Between WoW, LOTRO, more of the Allods beta, taking another look at Alganon as it gets closer to its next release date, and who knows what else (WAR's endless trial maybe?), I see myself glued to the screen for a while!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Runes of Magic: what I didn't like

Previous posts in this series: Enter the strange world of F2P: Runes of Magic, Runes of Magic: what I liked

Following on from my earlier post about what I liked about Runes of Magic, here are my thoughts about what I didn't like so much.

Crafting - the grind, it burns

Crafting is something that I'm always quick to check out in any game, but I'm still waiting for one to truly blow me away. RoM got an initial nod of approval from me for the fact that they let you start off by learning all ten of their tradeskills. However, you can only learn the second tier of six of them, the third tier of only three, and the fourth and final tier of just one. Reminded me of EverQuest 2 in the concept of learning the basics of everything, and not having to decide what to focus on until you've had a fair chance to see what you like.

However, the actual crafting appears rather mediocre. Like most fantasy MMOs (unfortunately), it's a basic fixed-recipe system - two zinc sand and one ash timber makes a studded wooden club, etc. - with your skill rising as you gather or craft, in an experience point system like LOTRO or EQ2, as opposed to a "chance of skillup" system like WoW.

Gathering nodes (ore, wood, herbs) are ever-present. Rather than being a matter of hunting for nodes, gathering is more about running from node to node, with there almost always being another one on your minimap. However, the actual gathering is slooooow.. 5 seconds to gather one piece, and a node can have up to six pieces in it, I believe. That's 30 seconds of just sitting there watching your character fiddling with a node.

I can't say I've been inspired to push very far with crafting, but the word on the forums is that as you get up towards the higher levels the grind is excruciating, and the crafted items uninspiring.

Free to play, expensive to win

I've often heard the free-to-play model described as "play for free, pay for convenience." And RoM certainly offers a number of conveniences that can be bought from the cash shop. Extra bag space. Extra bank space. Mounts of various speeds. Teleportation runes to take you back home. And of course there are many cosmetic items for sale too: costumes, pets, fireworks, etc.

But, as I mentioned in my "What I liked" post, there are also a lot of things you can buy for diamonds (RoM's standard currency for cash shop purchases) that will materially increase the power of your character quite a lot. And frankly, they're not cheap.

The main thing that frightens me is the number of ways in which you can upgrade gear, with cash shop purchases, to make it considerably more powerful than it could be without spending diamonds. A few bucks on refining jewels to increase the pluses on an item: apparently getting to +2 is feasible with jewels purchased from vendors for in-game gold, but the cash shop will get you up to +5 or +6. A few bucks more to drill rune slots into items - and each one is more expensive than the last. And even more money for purified fusion stones if you want to transmute the perfect set of six stats of your choice onto an items. And then you end up with some uber-item like this:

Now, it can certainly be pointed out that there is a brisk trade in diamonds for in-game gold on the auction house. Theoretically, there's no reason why you couldn't grind a pile of gold in-game, buy diamonds at the AH, and buy all these upgrades without spending a dime of real money. And I'd be lying if I said I had any idea how great a grind that would be - my character is level 16/16, and while the price of diamonds (something like 18,000 gold per diamond) looks enormous to me now, I have no idea how much gold a max level character can generate.

But it's ominous when you read on the forums that without well-upgraded gear, you shouldn't expect to be welcome in endgame group content. Especially if you want to tank (and did I mention that my character, which I like, is a Knight/Priest?). That doesn't really encourage me to keep playing and hope that it becomes possible to participate without either hundreds of hours of grinding or spending rather more than a standard MMORPG subscription on cash shop purchases.


Look, this is not a bad game. It definitely has some charm, there doesn't seem to be any shortage of quest content, and combat is quite fast-paced and as fun as any MMO at my current low level. I can't see myself getting excited about getting to endgame given the situation I described above, but I have no doubt that I'll dip in and out of it now and then, when I'm in the mood for something different - because, hey, it's free! No reason not to!