Monthly Archives: July 2011

What More Can a Hobbit Want?

What more can a hobbit want?

That’s how I ended my last post. And the answer to that is obvious: a nice hobbit-lass. And an ale, I guess. And some hearty food. And pipe-weed. But let’s stay with the first for a second.

So I’m in love with hobbits in this game. I love the shire and the little tidbit quests that go with it. I even ignore the fact that the epic story line feels somewhat tacked onto the hobbit line (“Now you’re in Archet, now you’re not. Now you find an old skull, and now you’re off fighting somebody you haven’t much heard of before.”).

I also love the way music works in this game. Having instruments that you can actually play yourself? awesome. So, why not go with the music theme all the way? Thus Latakia was born. The character creator says “hobbit-women are named after flowers or jewels”. I guess Latakia is borderline, but I want a sturdy, tomboyish kind of female hobbit, the kind that just pops up in my head when I hear the word “lass”. So she’s a minstrel, a farmer and cook (or yeoman, in LOTRO’s choose-one-vocation-get-three-professions jargon), and she’s fond of pipe-weed. Being a (these days mostly ex-)pipe smoker myself, I love the smell of tar and ports of Latakia.

Farming

Latakia working in the field, though slightly overdressed for the occasion.

Presto, pipe-weed!

By now, I’ve finished the Shire quests and need to branch out to the Bree-lands. Naturally, starting in the shire meant the usual staples (apart from the ubiquitous (boar|wolf|spider|bear) slaying.

Mail had to be delivered...

...pies returned...

...and some fireworks nonconsensually set off.

The first two also rewarded traits that I could make good use of as a minstrel. The later just make my little pyromanic heart cackle. Finally, level 15 came around, and it was time to choose a surname.

Latakia Brandybanks, cook, brewmaster, and enjoyer of pipeweed.

Look, Hiltibrant has a little sister. Or, I guess with the size and scope of hobbit-clans, it could be just as well a third cousin twice removed. I wonder whether other people also tend to have their characters in a game have a common background story; it seems I often end up with 2-3 characters in a game that I consider related, or forming a close party of friends. I half expect to log in one day into a game and find all my characters sitting together over a game of cards.

Gameplay-wise, the minstrel plays a lot better than I expected. Or at least it is getting better and better. The beginning was very slow, but with War Speech at level 10 and Call of Oromë at 14, it got a lot better. I wonder how it will be for soloing at higher levels; it doesn’t feel like there is a lot of grouping happening on Laurelin in the lower levels.

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Following the Ring

While I was busy most of last week, what with a paper deadline and a wedding coming up (not mine though! but I was co-organizer), I finally had some time to invest on Sunday and Monday night. After the inevitable pondering (EQ2? LOTRO? something completely different), I settled and took out my LOTRO warden for a walk again.

Hiltibrant Brandybanks, my indomitable one-person phalanx, had been at level 26 for some time, doing mundane work around Esteldin.

Hilibrant in red Isengard clothing

Hiltibrant, dressed for the occasion, and trying to look sharp.

Hiltibrant, fooling around in his "work clothes"

He’s a tailor, or, to be more precise, an explorer, but in LOTRO’s system, you choose a “vocation” that then defines three professions that you have to take, and tailor is one of them. That’s just as well, seeing how tailors also produce all sorts of leather armor, and my warden seemed to have missed the day in character school that they talked about plate armor. In any case, the mundane work comprised killing beasts for leather, to produce “expert patterns” with 1-day or 3-day cooldowns that can be traded in for reputation with the Tailor’s Guild. That, in turn, gives you the possibility to buy nice high-quality recipes. There’s obviously some downsides to that, one being the time sink in your way to the really nice recipes, the other being the fact that for this gear, you need one item per craft that only drops from rare nameds. (note to self: crafting in games, another potential issue of my as-of-yet not-only-unfinished-but-also-not-even-started series of “comparison of mechanics in different MMOs”)

In any case, I had logged in and out for some time now, doing circles killing (somewhat high level) wolves and bears and trading in patterns, and finally reached an acquaintance standing with the Tailor’s Guild. So I decided that was enough for now, and I could actually go back to “real” adventuring. Thankfully, as a warden, you get your first teleport spell at level 26, which conveniently makes you end up in Ost Guruth, the main quest hub of the Lone Lands. That being where I had stopped before going on guild errands, I could start right away.

The Lone Lands, just like many of the other zones in the game, is simply gorgeous, especially considering the relatively low hardware requirements to make them look that nice. Looking west from outside Ost Guruth towards Weathertop always gives me a mediterranean impression, with the color of the ground and shrubs, and the trees.

Overall, the questing was uneventful. Foes were slain, items collected, deeds done. Levels flew by thanks to rested XP and the Isengard pre-order pocket item. I’m tempted to use my destiny points for more rested XP in the future if I run out of it, because I don’t have any inclination to try PvMP, which to me sounds like just the same as PvP with some additional fancy models. Me touching PvP with nothing but an 11-foot stick, I don’t see myself using destiny points that way.

Then I ended up with just a handful of quests left in the zone, one of them being part of the epic book 2 quest line. Problem being, I had just hit level 29, and those quests had me deal with signature mobs (harder than your average ones, in EQ2, they’d probably “^” or “^^”) of my level or higher. After two painful attempts to kill gaunt lords with their irritating tendency to summon in additional undead during the fight, I postponed my ventures there. So much for the indomitable one-man phalanx. It’s a bit of a bummer, because I’d rather finish the area before I move on, but I might have to skip them for the time being.

So for now, I guess I’ll do a bit of skirmishing. Not too much though, I’m not overly fond of grinding the same instances over an over again while I’m still leveling. The way I see it, there’s more than enough time to get bored by that kind of gameplay at max level. Me being a lover of hobbits, I generally run the Trouble in Tuckborough skirmish. That way, I also end up with a bit of Mathom Society reputation too, which I’m sorely lacking for a hobbit. Also, I might go back to the North Downs again for a short while, because I need to do my artisan quest to progress my tailoring. Seems that’s something the Tailor’s Guild will teach me, after some more running around killing wolves. What more can a hobbit want?

Off to New Shores

I quit raiding with my WoW guild last week. It was a decision that took its time to come to fruition, but the bottom line is, I wasn’t enjoying it any more. There’s two factors that contributed to this state: Blizzard, and my current guild.

The Guild

They’re good people, and we had a lot of fun, even though I have only been with them for about 8 months now, which for me, is a very short time. But come raid time, the gloves would come off. Increasingly over the last few months, atmosphere in the raid got more and more tense. Failure in any way was frowned upon. There was a strong expectation that the learning had to be done offline via reading and videos. Now, I think offline preparation is a good thing, but at least for me (and I am sure for some others), this only gets me so far. I need to actually do things to find out how to do things. No video in the world gets me to the point that a couple of wipes do.

Our guild was successful. Very successful, in my eyes. When I joined in the late-Lich-King-slump, the guild was one of the better ones on the server, but it had never been anywhere near a high rank. We peaked out this year in May at a ranking of around 850 worldwide, 400 EU. Things went well, maybe I ignored the early signs of me not feeling so happy. But then we hit our first brick walls, the end bosses on Heroic. We did get down Nefarian and Cho’gall in the end, but it felt like the magic had gone. There was a lot of finger-pointing and blaming. It went to the point where I had the impression that there were distinct scapegoats that the blame went to by default unless there was an obvious other choice. Truth to be told, some people did own up to mistakes they did to take blame off those people, but I still felt uneasy about it. Sinestra didn’t fall to us at all, after some close encounters and about 200 wipes.

Progression was an important driving force of this guild, but as of late, it seems to have become the conditio sine qua non. Fun has taken the back seat. It’s en vogue to play the blame game. Healers blame tanks for their (the tanks’) deaths. DPS blames tanks and healers because the guild enforces a Tank>Healer>DPS priority on contested gear. Officers blame everybody that appears to be performing suboptimally. It’s one thing to call out if something goes wrong time after time. But this is just over the top. I realized today I’m not the only one who feels like this. In the four days since I announced my resignation, two more people have decided to quit, for similar reasons to me.

Enough of my guild though, I’m not on a crusade against them. It was fun while it lasted. Why don’t I just apply to a different raiding guild? A tank with 9/13 kills and 11/13 experience (I wasn’t there on the night of the Nefarian kill) should be able to find a new home somewhere? And this is where Blizzard ties in.

Blizzard

Many people have complained about the way Blizzard has been setting up their raids since Lich King, and I have to agree. They removed raid tiering and went with “the current raid” which was designed for challenge, and “everything before that” which was nerfed down into oblivion. Their goals were actually very understandable. They want to tell a story, and their game setup is geared to raids as the final challenge. Therefore, raids form an integral part and pinnacle of many of their story lines. But in Vanilla and TBC, most people did not get to see raids, let alone the end bosses. How many guilds went and defeated C’thun, or the Four Horsemen? Or, in TBC, Illidan (even after the 3.0 pre-patch nerfs!) or Kil’Jaeden? It makes sense to funnel as many people as possible through this content they laboriously created. They also still want to cater to the more hardcore crowd. So they came up with the very simple tiering of “as soon as new content arrives, the old content gets nerfed so everybody and their grandmother can see it”. The problem with this approach is that everybody playing the current tier is now effectively racing against time. If you don’t kill the menacing boss on time, you’ll be too late and only find his drooling, retarded cousin when you log on after the next patch. Talk about achievement when, instead of a heroic defeat, you realize that Cha’gill, not-as-famous little nephew of the more well-known Cho’gall, died to a double neck fracture he suffered when storming towards you and slipping on the puddle of drool he had left on the ground.

While this succeeds in making content accessible to more people, it comes with two major drawbacks. The first one is that killing the “dumbed down” version of a boss can feel empty. Knowing that this boss used to be hard, but they made it easier so that you, too, could have a shot at him, makes a kill worth much less. It’s like those worthless runner-up medals they used to hand out at running events for children, so “everybody is a winner”. The second is that, because old content gets cheapened that way, it is left behind fast. When ICC came out, how many people still ran ToC? And ToC was a poor stopgap instance anyway. How about Ulduar? All that work that went into one of the better dungeons Blizzard designed became obsolete the moment ICC released. So in the pursuit to make content more accessible, Blizzard reduced the worthwhile content – an unintended (I sure hope) side effect, seeing how there is never enough original content in an MMO.

There’s also my pet peeve, PvP. I never liked PvP, even outside MMOs. Quite frankly, I suck at them, because I’m missing the speed for this twitch gameplay. I was always towards the bottom of the ranking on FPS shootouts with friends; the only time I somewhat enjoyed PvP was back in Vanilla when we ran 15-people guild Arathi Basins. And before they revamped Alterac Valley in Patch 1.7 – because it felt more like a PvE game back then. WoW has this obsession with a unified rule set for PvP and PvE. Very few abilities work differently against players than against non-players. This leads to an unhealthy obsession with “balance”. If one class dominate another class or classes in PvP, expect to see a change incoming that then also changes how PvE works. One of the easiest way to strive towards balance is to distribute abilities among classes. Interrupts? Everybody should have them. Self-dispells of different types? Same, why not? The obsession with balance has recently (since Lich King) also seeped over into PvE, where “bring the player, not the class” is similar to the “accessible raids” slogan: a good idea on paper, but it comes with annoying side effects. Class identity is more and more on its way towards the dodo. Just recently, in their regular “Ask the Devs” column, I found this gem:

A great recipe for class homogenization is to go down the list of every ability and make sure that every class has their own version of that ability.

Of course, technically this is true. Making sure everybody is the same is the definition of “homogeneous”. The text makes it sound like they consider this a good idea, though. And in my eyes, it most definitely is not. I actually enjoy having classes that are distinct from each other, and I’ve seen how our current classes move away from that more and more. If this actually is Blizzard’s design philosophy these days, I fear for the worst.

The New Shores

So, my decision for now is to not raid any more. I’m not sure I will continue to play much WoW for the time being, either. I might reroll on another server where I have some friends from a previous guild (of European players on a US realm – but that is another story I will tell another day) that folded due to attrition. My plan, however, is to diversify the games I play. At the time of writing, I play EQ2 and LOTRO. I also tried out DDO some time ago and might pick it up again to play together with a friend. Over time, I might come across other games I’ll try out, not necessarily MMOs. The purpose of this blog is twofold:

  1. Document my experiences and journeys in various games. This is reflected in the blog’s title: I expect this to be a rather random walk towards whatever waypoint I choose any given week. One of my role models for these kinds of posts is Wilhelm Arcturus from The Ancient Gaming Noob blog, and to a lesser extent Stargrace from MmoQuests.com.
  2. Occasionally, I will have the feeling that I have something worthwhile to say about more general gaming-related aspects. These posts will take the form of more discourse-oriented texts, like typical posts by Nils in his MMO blog, or to a lesser extent Tobold in his MMORPG blog.

In addition, I might occasionally divert from the topic of games altogether for some more general remarks. So, let’s see how this great experiment in writing will unfold. Most posts will probably be not nearly as long as this one. I’ll be happy if I can publish an article at least once to twice a week, no matter the length. New shores are awaiting, let’s set sail and see where the wind will take us.