Middle Earth is serious business…

Lord of the Rings Online has a reputation for having a mature, friendly community. While every game has its fair share of trolls, LOTRO has fewer than most.

However, I’m finding the community almost TOO mature. People are friendly, but very serious. I get the feeling that the whole game is rather… sanitized. It’s enjoyable enough (though I do miss my PvP), but at this point, I feel like I can take it or leave it. According to the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology, I’m a Killer Socializer. “Killer Socializers often seek out PvP in a game, but they are looking to socialize with and form alliances and teams with other players who are interested in doing the same. KS tend to seek out guilds or clans that organize formal PvP events, or work on group strategies and tactics” (from the GamerDNA website.) No wonder I stuck it out in Warhammer for so long. I think I just like to PvP and chat with people while I do it.

Basically, I’m missing the social connection. I like my kin in LOTRO well enough, but they’ve been playing together a long time. Most of them are couples who duo together. And they’re very… serious. I’m not sure it’s the best place for a 30-something woman who still laughs at potty jokes.

I doubt Elrond would laugh if one of his kids called the other a Dodo Poo Poo Head.

My friend, Laurel, and I were talking about it today. She’s a hardcore raider in WoW, and thinking about switching to the Alliance side and applying to the top raid guild there, because she’s already in the top Horde raid guild but she’s tired of their lack of commitment and the fact that they carry a few people just because they’ve been there forever (or are the girlfriend of the raid leader.). While the Pre-Cataclysm activities are calling to the former WoW-junkie in me, I’m really not interested in going back to WoW, mainly because the community sucks. My old server was like a whole village full of idiots at a convention. They still tell anal jokes ALL the time, because apparently, those never get old. And if a new player asks a question, they get an answer ranging from flat-out wrong to DIAF.

But is my alternative something like LOTRO, where people are SO polite and serious and mature that I miss the joking and teasing and “your mom” jokes?

Invader Zim GIR

I wants me two barrels of glue to be my friends! (Invader Zim, anyone?)

It doesn’t help that I’m getting a bit bored with LOTRO. At almost 60, I’ve solo’d most of my way through, apart from two short runs in Carn Dum. (Hunters are a dime a dozen, so the lack of groups is partly my fault. I could have rolled a less popular class.) My younger daughter has been playing, and thoroughly enjoying herself, and I was hoping that she’d catch up so I’d have someone to duo with, but she’s taking her sweet time, crafting and exploring along the way.

Ultimately, I think what’s missing is the social component. I log in, say a polite hello in kin chat, get polite greetings in return and I’m on my own. Since everyone duos, and many of the couples are RL friends, there’s not much kin grouping. It was similar in EQ2. After some looking, I thought I’d found a great little social group until the guild leader disbanded the guild late one night in a fit of family drama. I haven’t really been motivated to go back to EQ2 since then.

Maybe when a game has such a friendly community on the large scale, there’s less need for tight knit small scale interactions? Maybe what drives the very guild-centric social environment in WoW is the terrible quality of the larger server community? Maybe if my husband ever got into MMOs, then I’d have a permanent duo partner and I could say good-bye to the rest of the community? (Not going to happen… I’ve been trying for YEARS!!! *pout*)

Maybe I need to look for another game (besides WoW) with a reputation for a crappy community, and see if I can find a solid, mature-but-not-too-mature social group there. Hmmm… Darkfall?

I should have quit during character creation…

Some of my EQ2 friends have been playing Final Fantasy XIV for the past few weeks, and thoroughly enjoying it, so when I saw the game on sale at my local Target, I figured I’d give it a try also.

I should have quit when I noticed that the “face” slider controlled the size of my character’s boobs.

I couldn’t stand the game after about 20 minutes, but I stuck it out for a bit longer, thinking it would get better. It didn’t.

First, I had to create a Square Enix account. Then I have to add a FFXIV account to that account. Then, I had to add “options” to the FF account. “Options” are equal to characters. So I have 8 available “options” which means I can create 8 characters, but they charge me for using each option. I have to pay per character slot?! The base monthly cost of the game is $10, and each character costs another $3. So one character costs about $13 a month to play. Ugh. Then I see the payment options…

I can pay either with a credit card, in which case they’ll charge me a $2 additional fee, or I can pay via Crysta, which is virtual currency. The available Crysta amounts I can buy don’t match the amounts I’d have to pay, so I’d always end up paying for more Crysta than I need. Ugh again.

I choose 1 option, which gives me one character slot, but since I get the first 30 days free, I don’t have to pay anything yet. I start creating my character, but the game isn’t full screen. That’s okay, I figure. Once I’m in the game, I’ll find an option to set it to full-screen mode.

The character creator “face” slider changes the size of my boobs… huh? They didn’t even try to come up with names for the handful of slider options, and the mouse slider and menu are TERRIBLE. Many of the options don’t seem to make noticeable changes at all.

I enter the game, but I can’t find an option to switch to full screen mode. I log out and look up forum posts, discovering that I can’t adjust the config from inside the game. It’s a separate program that needs to be run. Annoying and old school. I can’t remember the last time I had to run a separate config program to change the options in a game… Baldur’s Gate, maybe?

Back into the game… My character “wakes up” in a room with a bunch of NPCs and no indication of what to do. I fumble through the menu system and find a journal option, which says something about how I heard a song and someone must know something. I decide to walk around clicking on random people with names like “Garrulous Adventurer” and “Tired Adventurer,” none of which say anything interesting. It takes me a second to realize that I need to click off of the people to get the dialogue box to disappear. Like everything else, that part of the interface is ridiculously clunky. Finally I click on the door and get a warning about leaving. Once I leave, I can’t come back here. So I think, “Hmm… I’m supposed to find something in this room.” I spend another five annoying minutes clicking on people and finally just click the door and think, “Ugh, whatever….”

Outside there’s a crazy long (yet beautiful!) cut scene where I watch people fight. Then I’m given control of my character, and I go through what is supposed to be a combat tutorial with a little flashing notepad up top that I think is supposed to be a help tip. I learn about active and passive mode and end up clicking one button over and over while watching the stamina bar make pretty colors. My teenage daughter observes that some of this stuff is common Final Fantasy stuff, and that it looks like a DS game that was ported to the PC. Watching the NPCs fight during the cut scene turned out to be more fun than using my own combat abilities. That’s pretty sad.

Another cut scene and my boat is arriving at the starting town. I get a client error, and it crashes as I reach Lomsa Li-whatever-the-name-is. So I restart, and my character is back in the little room with all the NPCs at the start. My journal has been updated, but I still have to go through the stupid fight tutorial thingy again, so I suppose the character data is saved separately from the journal.

I zone into Lomsa-whatever thinking that I’ll finally be in a city, but I’m in yet another instanced area with NPCs that I apparently need to click on. I check my journal but it says the same “maybe someone knows something” crap. After some bland dialogue, I finally talk to a guy who zones me into a tavern via another ridiculously long cutscene. And surprise! It’s yet another instanced area, with yet *more* NPCs sitting around that I apparently need to click on in order to figure out what to do next.

At this point, I’ve spent at least an hour playing, and have controlled my own character for a small fraction of that time, mostly just clicking on people trying to figure out what to do next. I suspect they spent more money trying to make slow motion water droplets in the cut scenes than they did trying to make a usable UI.

So I bailed and went off to play Vindictus for a bit. According to my friends, FFXIV gets a lot better, I chose the wrong starting town, and the developers are making weekly improvements. Meh. I don’t have the patience to wait around for weekly improvements, and I’m certainly not going to pay while they do stuff that should have been done in beta.

The voice chat parenting crisis…

Recently, I found my teen daughter voice chatting to folks in the MMO she plays the most – Mabinogi. She has some real life friends who play, and some others that they’ve met online.

The thought of her voice chatting with people that she didn’t know made me uncomfortable, but I wasn’t sure how to deal with it in a way that didn’t make me seem hypocritical. (While there are things that are non-negotiable, I try to be a thoughtful parent and mindful of how it was to be a teen.) After all, I use voice chat regularly, and some of the folks that I played WoW and Warhammer with have become great real life friends.

Fortunately, she’s an absolutely awesome kid, and understood my discomfort. I asked her to just hold off on voice chatting while I thought about it for a while, and we talked a bit about why I felt uncomfortable, and some possible solutions to the dilemma. I know some of the things that have been said to me in vent, and I’d rather not have those things said to my daughter. She knows not to give out personal information about herself online, but once she starts talking, people know that she’s a young girl.

Voice chatting in MMOs is not one of those parenting issues that I can solve by looking at my own upbringing. I have wonderful parents, but this just wasn’t something they had to deal with. Maybe the 80s equivalent would have been calling random people on the phone and chatting with them? Yeah. That wouldn’t have gone over well.

Mom... Those gloves SOOOO don't match that outfit!

I have a good friend with a gaming teen. Her son is a little older than my daughter, and he’s a great kid. He’s also got two level 80s in a raid guild in WoW, so I knew that they’d probably dealt with the voice chat issue. She explained that they’d disallowed using vent for a while, until their son proposed paying for the server himself, so he could set the rules and control who came into vent. That solution has worked out really well for them.

Together, my daughter and I ended up making two decisions. First, she would only use voice chat with her real life friends. They’re the only people she wanted to talk to in anyway, but other people kept jumping in. I may end up paying for the vent server so she can control who’s on. Secondly, she started playing EQ2 with me. She wants a challenging MMO experience with loads of content and rich lore. She’s been having a blast, role-playing, level locking to work on crafting and exploring all the areas in each tier. While she goes off to do her own thing in Norrath, I feel better about being connected to what she’s doing.

In which EQ2 freaks me out…

This week, in EQ2, I got freaked out by sharks, giggled at by crazy skeletons, ganged up on by creepy little dolls and found a magic lamp with a pissed off genie inside. I also navigated a ship safely to shore, saved a village of frog people, uncovered a demonic plot, and went beer shopping for the Avatar of Below. I’m kind of a big deal in Norrath…

I have a shark phobia, and fighting these guys is the single scariest thing I've ever done in a video game. Even the Lost Souls in Doom didn't freak me out this much...

I have a shark phobia, and fighting these guys is the single scariest thing I've ever done in a video game. Even the Lost Souls in Doom didn't freak me out this much...

Okay, maybe not…

I continue to be amazed at the sheer amount of content in EQ2, and how much care has gone into some of the most out of the way things!

EQ2_000022

While EQ2 has (more than) it’s fair share of “kill ten rats” quests, it also has a surprising variety of puzzles, instanced encounters, clever dialogue and secret discoveries. You never quite know what to expect when you find some random clickable thing in the wilderness.

EQ2 gives players the ability to “lock” their level and turn off experience gain, while still earning Alternate Advancement points, an interesting concept that makes it possible for the older content to remain relevant. Some guilds level lock their characters at each tier to complete all the raid/endgame content at that level before moving on to the next expansion tier. Other raid guilds utilize EQ2′s mentoring system, which allows a player to temporarily lower their level to match earlier content.

For my WoW playing friends, this would be the equivalent of a raid guild that stopped leveling at 60, did all the vanilla WoW raid achievements at the level they were intended for, and then moved on to 70 to work through all the Burning Crusade stuff. It’s a great opportunity for me to experience all the raid content that I’ve missed.

These guys would be lost without me.

These guys would be lost without me.

My little Fury is currently level 51, and leveling quickly, despite having my Alternate Advancement slider set to reroute about 40% of my earned experience into AA points. (AA points are spent in a variety of “trees” to improve my characters abilities and statistics.) I’ll probably hit 60 just about the same time as the rest of the guild is ready to move on to level 70, which should give me some good opportunities to learn how to play my character in a group before trying to raid with her. She’s just got an insane amount of buttons, so I’m a little nervous about actually trying to heal with her. But hey, it’ll be a challenge.

I do miss my PvP (I’m a killer-socializer, according to the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology), so I’m thinking about creating an alt that I can jam through to 80 just for the battlegrounds (if SOE ever gets them working… *sigh*). But I’m thoroughly enjoying EQ2, so I don’t plan on picking up anything else any time soon.

Choose wisely! (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, anyone?)

Choose wisely! (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, anyone?)

On the “in other news” front… Tickets for the LFG Expo in June go on sale on my birthday (March 26th). It looks like it’s going to be awesome! And it’s here in Minneapolis!! Woo hoo!

At least I didn’t roll a fae…

I have another stamp in my MMO passport this month… Everquest II.

After thinking through what I really want out of my gaming experience in the last post, and spending time playing single player games for a bit, I decided to give EQ2 another shot. I’d played it briefly just prior to the release of Wrath of the Lich King, during the pre-expansion lull.

EQ2 has the level of complexity that I’ve been craving, an overall decent commmunity and a fairly rich lore. I’m playing on Antonia Bayle, which is the RP server, and I was so impressed after playing for a month that I actually bought the Collector’s Edition of the Sentinel’s Fate expansion, which won’t surprise anyone who remembers that I’m a sucker for a CE…

While the Collector's Edition mount isn't the most beautiful thing I've ever seen... The graphics really aren't that bad, considering the age of the game.

So the Collector's Edition mount isn't the most beautiful thing I've ever seen... The graphics really aren't that bad, considering the age of the game.

In the previous post, I mentioned that I enjoyed the leveling experience and the challenge of gearing up a character. I really *want* an uphill course to climb in improving my character. While leveling in EQ2 is fairly easy, the other aspects of character development are where the challenge lies.

A few of the things about EQ2 that I’m enjoying…

  • Community – My biggest issue with WoW (and other games) is that I’m a cranky old lady (though I’m known to still laugh at my 4 year old’s potty jokes, soooo….), and I just don’t have the patience to deal with trolls anymore. I can’t read chat in WoW for more than about 10 seconds before getting the overwhelming urge to poke my eyes out. While EQ2′s “1-9 chat” channel, essentially the global channel, can occasionally get a bit silly, it’s the *only* general channel in ANY game that I haven’t needed to turn off soon after logging in.
  • Alternate Advancement points – This is part of the complexity of character development. AA points are akin to WoW’s talent points, and you spend them to upgrade skills and obtain new abilities. They’re received independently of your adventuring level, and you get AAs by doing all kinds of things… exploring, killing, questing, collecting stuff, etc. The AA cap at level 90 is 250 points. However, if you just level through to 90, you’ll end up with only a portion of those (someone told me around 100-120 points at level 80 if you jam straight through). In order to be good at your chosen class, you’ll want to earn as many AA points as possible. To this end, there’s an “experience slider” where you can convert portions of earned adventuring experience into AA experience. I absolutely love being able to control my journey through the content like this. It also means that if something is tough for me to do, I can earn more AA and try it again instead of giving up and outleveling it. The AA slider also lets me continue questing in a zone that I’m enjoying, when I might otherwise level out of it quickly. If I want to jam through to max level, I can. If I want to take a slow, leisurely journey through the content, I can. EQ2 feels far less linear than other MMOs I’ve played.
  • Dings – So many things “ding” in EQ2. There are adventuring level dings, and AA dings, and collection completion dings, and tradeskill level dings, and the little ding noise you get when you harvest a rare crafting item…
    The atmospheric effects are quite nice, and I look forward to seeing the improved graphics in the newer zones!

    The atmospheric effects are decent, and I look forward to seeing the improved graphics in the newer zones

  • Classes – I spent a couple of weeks just trying different classes, and settled on playing a fury, which is an offensive, healing capable druid. I leveled a dirge to level 20 when I’d played previously, which is a bardic, buffing class. I’d like to try a wizard, and one of the tank classes at some point.
  • Betrayal – Every race and class is either good, evil or neutral. My fury is a high elf. I’m not sure what I was thinking, other than that all the characters I’d tried had gone through the starting areas for evil races so I should try a “good” character. But if I decide to turn evil, there’s no problem, since EQ2 has a betrayal system allowing the player to switch factions! The betrayal system is well thought out and a really neat feature. I’ve done some of the quests to betray, though I haven’t gone all the way yet. I love how the quest givers subvert the character by convincing them of the flaws of their current faction. I probably will betray eventually just to see that content. Imagine if you were a Horde player in WoW and could quest to convert to the Alliance, or if you were a destruction race in Warhammer and could quest to become Order…
  • Chronomancy – I haven’t experienced this one yet, but there are chronomancer NPCs who’ll lower your level temporarily so you can go back and earn XP and AA with quests and instances that you’ve outleveled. There are people who jam through to max level and then use the chronomancer to go back down to earlier content so they can earn those AA points. I have yet to see anything like this is any other game. You can also “mentor down” to a lower level friend so you can quest and instance with them at the same level as they are.
  • Crafting – Crafting is not something I generally enjoy. For some reason, I’m getting a real kick out of it in EQ2. Maybe it’s because you ding tradeskill levels. (Apparently, I’m a sucker for a ding?) Starting at level 10, you choose one of three general tradeskill areas – scholar, outfitter and craftsman, and get to experience crafting a wide variety of items. Every character has a tradeskill level as well as an adventuring level, and when your tradeskill level hits 20, you choose a specialization. My fury took tailoring, so I can continue to make my own leather armor upgrades.
  • I met Antonia Bayle at the Royal Hunting Camp, after uncovering a sinister plot to kill her.

    I met Antonia Bayle at the Royal Hunting Camp, after uncovering a sinister plot to kill her.

    I’m looking forward to hanging out in Norrath some more…

What’s the point?

In the Fallen Earth help channel, the same few questions get asked over and over. (No, not “How do I make relish?” and “How do I equip the axe?” though those do get asked an awful lot.)

It’s very common for people in the tutorial to ask, “What’s the level cap and how’s the endgame?” When hearing that Fallen Earth really doesn’t have much of an endgame yet, and the level cap is 45, the response is often, “Then what’s the point?”

What’s the point, indeed…

Many MMO players are inclined to look at the endgame of a potential new MMO as a determinant of how long they’ll stay with the game. What’s the point of subscribing if you’re going to run out of content in a month of playing?

The issue with Fallen Earth is that so much of the game is about the journey, and about exploring, that people who think, “I’ll jam through 45 levels and be stuck with nothing to do” don’t do the game justice. But I’m not surprised they think that way.

When I first tried Lord of the Rings Online, shortly after it’s release, I decided not to subscribe, because I was concerned that the level cap was only 50, and there seemed very little content past that. So I know what those people in the Fallen Earth help channel are thinking. I felt that same way about LOTRO.

For anyone whose main leap into MMOs began with WoW, as mine did (not counting MUDs and Guild Wars), I think it’s hard to break away from the idea that the*real* game starts at the level cap.

In World of Warcraft, leveling characters is easy. In the past, it was far more difficult, but they’ve since reduced the experience required to level and increased the experience earned from quests. So the journey to the level cap is short and sweet for most people. And that’s where the REAL game begins. Gearing up, reputation grinds, raiding… Blizzard has focused so much on the endgame in WoW that the Wrath of the Lich King expansion didn’t provide any new content for characters under the level cap. It was solely an endgame expansion. Blizzard’s primary demographic is clearly the endgame players.

Where I find the most enjoyment in WoW, or “the point” of WoW for me, is getting a character to the level cap then gearing them up. I love the gear grind. In Burning Crusade, I spent hours doing heroic 5-man instances with guildies for badges, and grinding rep with Ogri’la, and the Shatari Skyguard. Getting to exalted reputation levels with the various factions had tangible rewards and was tough to do for the casual player. It took time. As a result, there was far more diversity in the server community.

Maliera as a new level 70 in 2007

Maliera as a new level 70 in 2007

Now, the loot grind is ridiculously easy. Not only is leveling short and sweet, but so is gearing up! The whole point of WoW, for me, is lost. I was never a hardcore raider, so I’m not lamenting that they’ve made content more accessible. I’m glad it’s accessible! I’m just disappointed in that there’s nothing really left for my style of playing. I’ve got six characters sitting at the level cap, and the most recent two level 80s (druid and warlock) were both pretty well-geared within a few days of hitting 80.

Maliera in 2010, days after turning 80, all epic'd out in Tier 9, badge gear and the robe from 25-man ToC. And yes, I made her a blood elf when I faction changed her back to horde.

Maliera in 2010, days after turning 80, all epic'd out in Tier 9, badge gear and the robe from 25-man ToC

I enjoyed Warhammer because I was able to level through PvP (RvR), and gear up through renown, lucky bag drops and later, tokens. The gear grind frustrated a lot of people, which is why Mythic introduced tokens, but it didn’t really bother me.

So after realizing that “the point” of an MMO, for me, is leveling (with friends!) and then the loot grind, I’m starting to look at other games to see what’s out there that might still satisfy that play style…

I’ll still stick around WoW, because I love the people I’ve played with the for the last three years, but I really need something more… hmm… satisfying? Or what’s the point?

It’s the end of the world as we know it…

And I feel fine…

I have a kid who can sing all the lyrics to that REM song. Crazy… but anyway…

After reading lots of good reviews, I picked up a copy of Divinity 2 last week. I enjoyed the previous games, so I figured it would be a nice diversion. While it was an okay game, I didn’t find myself getting too engaged. With some games, I feel like I have to finish just to get it out of my system, but D2 was more like… I have to finish it because I paid for it.

Being able to turn into a dragon is nice, and I enjoyed the aerial combat. The enemy AI wasn’t very good though, and I found I could easily strafe in, kill a couple of ballistics or a nest, and fly back to heal and quicksave. While the game offers a wide array of abilities you can put points into, I ended up dumping all my skill points into just a handful of skills: explosive shot (which has a ridiculously overpowered AOE affect), summon ghost (he’s weak at first, but with a handful of points, he’s a battle healer!), summon demon (a taunting tanking summon with decent dps) and charm.

For most fights, I could run in, fire off explosive shot and take out everyone in the group instantly. For harder fights, I had my demon tank, my ghost heal and I’d charm one of the enemies so they’d fight among themselves and I could pick them off. The final battle took me all of about 30 seconds and certainly didn’t feel epic. I almost never bothered pulling out my “creature” pet because he didn’t scale very well, even using clean-cut body parts. The story seemed a little goofy too. The bad guy keeps showing up periodically throughout the game, but he never thinks to just kill you while you’re a lowbie peon and rolling on the ground injured. To twist a Spaceballs quote, “Good will triumph because evil is DUMB.”

Riding off into the sunset...

Riding off into the sunset...

I started playing Fallen Earth, and it’s a great change of pace. I love not caring about endgame. With all the family stuff I’m having to do in real life right now, my gaming time is limited, so being able to queue up crafting stuff, or just log in and goof around for a bit is great. I love all the crazy stuff the npcs say. (“So. Do clones go to the bathroom?”) There are so many little things hidden everywhere, from signs spraypainted on the sides of buildings to the tooltips of my items. The humor fits me very well, and I can see FE being a game that my husband (“He Who Will Not Play MMOS”) might eventually play. The community seems mature for the most part, and the GMs are quick to squash the Barrens Chat refugees that occasionally start trolling in the help channel. I don’t feel like quite as much of a crotchety old lady when I’m playing FE, unlike WoW, where I’m occasionally convinced that an entire village of idiots has decided to have their worldwide convention on my server. ;)

I love how the gear looks in FE

I love how the gear looks in FE

I’m still logging into WoW once in a while to visit with friends, but there’s really nothing to do now, apart from raid. Since gear is so easy to get, there’s just not much to do. My druid is exalted with the 5 Northrend factions, and is well-geared. So the only thing left to do is level alts… and with six 80s now (I got my warlock to 80 not long ago), I’m pretty over the whole alt-leveling thing. I’ve thought about starting some new characters on a different server with absolutely no resources from my 80s, in an effort to capture that whole “first time through the game” feeling. But I suspect it would be a bit like a high school reunion… the past was way cooler in my memory than it is now.

I also participated in the beta for Star Trek Online, for about two hours before the constant rubber banding drove me nuts. There’s plenty of potential in STO, but to think that this beta is just a month away from a release is crazy. It reminds me a bit of the Warhammer open beta. Not a good sign.

Back to WoW…

A few weeks ago, one of my guildmates from WoW sent a Facebook message to our group, saying, “I’m thinking about getting back into gaming. Where are you all playing now?”

Many people weren’t playing any MMOs. A couple of folks were still playing WoW. I was off playing LOTRO. But with that one Facebook post, most of the core of our guild suddenly decided to return… including myself. Originally, I said I wouldn’t go back to WoW, but as more people posted, “Hmm… maybe I’ll try it again,” I decided that I wanted to play with these guys again. Now we average about a dozen people on in the evening.

I picked up my resto druid, got her to 80 and very quickly geared her up. In January, my guild will have been together for three years so it’s pretty neat to have everyone back.

Our first raid boss down after taking a several months break. We'd killed him many times before, but this time we celebrated playing together again.

Our first raid boss down after taking a several months break. We'd killed him many times before, but this time we celebrated playing together again.

I found Frostmourne!

I found Frostmourne!

I’m still playing LOTRO as well! Once I got my hunter to 30, I was able to start using the new skirmish system, which is a blast! In the past, I only played one MMO at a time, but I find that having two to bounce back and forth between keeps me from getting bored or burnt out on either one. Now that the level requirements for a mount were lowered, my hunter was able to get a Bree Starter Horse. While slow, it certainly seems to help in getting around. Running from Ost Goruth to the Forsaken Inn isn’t quite so long anymore.

My Bree starter horse, Barley

My Bree starter horse, Barley

Between the skirmish system in LOTRO and the new dungeon finder tool in WoW, I’ve got plenty to do when I get a chance to play for a bit.

It’s all in the voices…

I spent the last couple of weeks trying to get Dragon Age out of my system. I’ve played all the other Bioware RPGs, and while Dragon Age looked good, I didn’t particularly care for Mass Effect (*gasp*) and envisioned more of the same.

Mass Effect had WAY too much talking. I’m sure Mass Effect fans will hate me for saying that. In order to get to the action, I slogged through hours of talking and reading codex updates. Aside from the one tutorial battle in the beginning, there was just not enough going on early in the game to hold my attention. The NPC personalities didn’t seem very distinct. By the time I did get through the seeming HOURS of dialogue, I found myself frustrated with trying to cross a bridge using the Mako while things were shooting at me. The Mako controls felt clunky and I died several times. I’ve heard the controls are better on the PC, and I was playing the 360 version, but ugh… I dropped Mass Effect at that point, and my husband got into playing it. He ended up finishing the game and loved it. It’s the only Bioware game that I’ve not played through to the end.

One of the few shots where nobody is covered in blood...

One of the few shots where nobody is covered in blood...

So I didn’t expect much from Dragon Age, apart from maybe endless hours of clicking through dialogue options. And lots of loading screens, if Jade Empire taught me anything… Even so, I bought the Collector’s Edition because I’m a sucker for a CE…

I’m very sensitive to good voice acting. Nothing breaks my immersion and ruins a game for me faster than bad voices or annoying music. My WoW friends will tell you that I LOVE the Lich King voice. (They were also subjected to vent discussions on the voices of Nexus-Prince Shaffar and Prince Malchezaar!) Oblivion drove me NUTS because all the NPCs of a particular gender/race sounded the same. You’d greet a beggar, who’d have a raspy cockney accent, and then his voice would suddenly change to the “refined male” voice in conversation. But as much as I enjoy quality voice acting, I don’t want to spend hours clicking through dialogue options to get to the action… I want a good mix of action and voice and NPCs should have distinct, well-developed personalities, especially the ones who are going to group with me. That’s what makes the gameplay memorable. The voices should not be grating or annoying. Anyone who’s played Baldur’s Gate remembers Minsc, (“Go for the eyes, Boo!”) but how many people remember the name of the male lead in KOTOR 2… the romance option for females?

One of the first things I noticed about Dragon Age, because I’m a dork, is that the voice acting is consistent! All the characters hailing from a specific region have similar dialects. People from Orlais sound French, etc. There’s only one little nitpicky part that seemed weird, and that’s Murdock in Redcliffe. His voice seems to change a couple of times, almost as if they had to edit in dialogue options for him. But the rest of the voice acting is great! The voices fit the personalities too, and the actors are well cast. One character burps when you click on him, and another answers in one or two word sentences and is as enigmatic at the end of the game as he is in the beginning. The voices of possessed NPCs are brilliantly done, with the demon voice echoing in the background. Sometimes, the voices are just downright creepy, like the child chanting in Haven. Much of the flavor of the locations is conveyed by NPCs that you “overhear” as you walk past. The dueling town criers in Orzammar with their “news of the hour” updates had me running past them each time I did something to see what they’d say next.

Sometimes the automatic screenshot feature takes the goofiest screenies...

Sometimes the automatic screenshot feature takes the goofiest screenies...

The best part is that Dragon Age dropped the endless dialogue clicking that seemed over overpower Mass Effect! Instead, there’s a nice mix of combat and dialogue. The codex is still there, but the updates are unobtrusive and quick to read. The chatting between party members is well done, and often hilarious (Morrigan and Alastair bickering, Zevran giving Alastair “tips”). It always seemed to occur in the spots where I had time to listen, rather than in some other Bioware games, where they start chatting just before you zone into somewhere else. Shale is a particular favorite who really should have been included in the main game so everyone can play with him. He reminds me a bit of HK-47, and his fondness for pretty crystals and hatred of birds just cracks me up.

I’ve played the game through twice, once as a mage and once as a rogue, and although I plan on playing it through again, it’s now out of my system. I’m no longer dreaming about it at night. (Am I the only gamer who does that?) Only a few games have really sucked me in like that, and made me feel like I *have* to finish it so I can move on with my life… Planescape: Torment, KOTOR, Diablo 2 and the Witcher come to mind. I was looking forward to trying The Old Republic when it comes out, but after playing Dragon Age, I’m now REALLY looking forward to TOR. If TOR is anything like Dragon Age, it could be amazing.

Yesterday, I logged back in LOTRO and got my hunter to level 27. I also completed another class trait, just in time for that third slot to open up at 27, another racial trait, and a couple of virtues. The game is just as fun now as it was before I got sidetracked by Dragon Age, so I expect I’ll continue to chug along there after my brief foray into Ferelden.

I just wish Radagast the Brown didn’t have the EXACT same voice as Gandalf. *sigh*

A week of adventuring in Middle-Earth…

The leveling experience in an MMO is really only new and exciting that very first time. With that in mind, I’m really relishing my leveling experience in Lord of the Rings Online! I’ve taken loads of screenshots, gone way out of my comfort zone to pug the newbie instance (The Great Barrow) and join others in group quests. It’s been a GREAT week, and more fun than I’ve had in an MMO in a very long time.

Outside the walls of Bree... This game is gorgeous!

Outside the walls of Bree... This game is gorgeous!

I definitely get a sense that Turbine really cares about their game. The new Siege of Mirkwood trailer has the tagline, “Turbine: Powered by Our Fans” accompanied by the Turbine logo (a fan) which cracks me up and makes me groan at the same time. A couple of times, GMs jumped into the global “Looking for Fellowship” channel to say hello and ask how things were going. They had great rapport with the players, acknowledging several by name and joking around. Customer service has been improved considerably.

And they’ve really enhanced the new user experience! The quest hubs have been reorganized so that quests are grouped together logically. For someone like me, who prefers to group quests by area, complete them all together and do my turn-ins in batches, this is brilliantly satisfying. On the other hand, I spent a half hour yesterday running around trying to find the two Great Barrows quests that used to be offered in Bree only to finally give up and accept a summons to the instance… where the quest givers now wait right outside!

Entering the Weaver's Den in the depths of the Old Forest

Entering the Weaver's Den in the depths of the Old Forest

Leveling is much faster. There’s less exp required per level, and so far, the pace feels just about right, though I’ve heard it slows down soon. Many of the low level group quests have been made a tad easier so it is possible to solo them though still better to do them in a group. Playing Aion, with its grindy leveling, got me in the habit of killing everything along the way as I run, and that’s enhanced my leveling speed as well. I’m also mindful of completing my deeds at the lower levels and have two racial traits, two class traits, and about a dozen virtues completed. Attempting to be more sociable and less introverted has been working well too, since I’ve now completed all the Great Barrows quests and half of my gear is gorgeous purples! (Maybe it’s the WoW player in me that still gets giddy when I see purple…hehe). I have a handful of people on my friends list and have yet to add a single person to my ignore list. I also received the Undying title, for not dying during my adventures prior to level 20, but shortly after earning it, I was ganked by a couple of walking trees in the Old Forest… Oh well!

The best part is that I haven’t even quested in the Lone-Lands yet, other than to kill one poor crazy fellow for the expert Woodworker quest! It’s now completely possible to bypass Lone-Lands almost entirely. (Someone told me that they were planning on skipping it completely on their newest alt.) Lone-Lands was a tough slog when I was leveling my captain. There are definitely more choices now in where to go to level and the progression feels less linear than it did before.

Running towards the Forsaken Inn for the first time at level 24!

Running towards the Forsaken Inn for the first time at level 24!

My daughter has fallen behind on her leveling, but that’s okay. She’s been working hard on NaNoWriMo (this is her third year), and I’m proud of her for having her priorities in order. I do enjoy playing with her though!

One of the best experiences I had this week was going through the Epic Book 1, Chapter 11 quest, “Othrongroth” where I was accompanied by a dwarven rune-keeper from a dwarf-only heavy-RP guild. He put up with my (probably woefully awkward) attempts to RP and really made the whole thing a blast. Unfortunately, I was having so much fun that I didn’t get any screenshots. I also failed to get screenshots of my first Great Barrows group, which was made up of all level 21 and 22s.

So now my little hunter is midway through 24. Yes… She’s an elf. SORRY!!!! My daughter made me do it!! And Tolkien elves are okay, right? Right?!

Next Saturday, the server is having a kinship recruitment fair, and if I haven’t found one by then, I’m planning on attending and chatting with some of the kins. I’ve visited loads of recruitment links in the forums, and see a couple that look like they might be a good fit for me. Finding a kin is the next major item on my gaming agenda.

My gear is starting to look nicer, and less cobbled together.

My gear is starting to look nicer, and less cobbled together.