Making a hobbit of it.

As mentioned here, Kate and I have been conducting a sort of Test Run of Fun on the MMORPG Lord of the Rings Online: Shadow of Angmar. I’ve got a whole lot to say about this, and I’m not sure it makes sense all in one post.

Okay, I’m just going to make it a stream of consciousness thing and write about pops into my head.

Sharing Playtime
Considering a new MMO with Kate was a tricky thing, because apparently I’m some kind of freak in that I don’t really mind having more than one MMO account active. I’m not being snarky about this at all — in my experience, MOST people don’t want to have, say, a CoH account going as well as a WoW account.

And I don’t just mean “the people I know” — through the internets, the most common post you’ll see is “I quit WoW to come over here.” or “I let my CoH account to play WoW.” People ping pong back and forth a lot, but in general, they only have one game going at one time.
I haven’t done that. Most notably in the past three months or so, when I’ve had three accounts going (LotRO, WoW, and CoH), but even before then for a longish time (CoH and WoW). There are a couple reasons.

* CoH: _I_ am done, but _we_ are not done. — My time on CoH was pretty much over, personally. As far as I’m concerned, the 30 or so people that made up my regular play-circle on CoH dissolved (ironically) not long after the great meet-and-greet in January of 2006. As MMOs are at their core a social, multiplayer game, there’s not much reason to log on when the social aspect is low — certainly, I am NOT EVER going to go through the effort of rebuilding another group on that game again. HOWEVER, Kate and I were still playing on it together, and THAT was always fun — a sort of long-distance date night for us — so while _I_ might have been done with logging on for _myself_ I was more than willing to log on for _us_.

* WoW — it’s Warcraft, baby. — The MMOs that really capture me are the ones that touch the core of my geekery. The original Warcraft game was the first online, multiplayer game (with graphics) that I ever played. Then it was Warcraft 2. Then Diablo. Then Warcraft 3. That’s 12 or 13 years of videogame play and continuing storyline that just… reached out with this incredible grip of familiarity and roped me in. I love the wacky weird sci-fi steampunk fantasy of the place, and the designers work hard to make sure that the game is accessible to damn near anybody with an even halfway functional machine, so I love that too. Plus, Lee plays, De plays, and I’m in a couple good guilds where I am Not (nor will ever be) in charge, and that’s nice also.

* LotRO — Warcraft has NOTHING on this core-geek connection. The gameplay is good, the implementation of the mechanics is inspired, and come on… it’s the Lord of the Rings. I’ve read the bloody books something like fifteen times, plus four times through the Silmarillion. They have done a FANTASTIC job making the Shire *feel* like the Shire, and the scary stuff FEEL SCARY. I’m in sixth grade again, looking at the cover of The Two Towers for the first time. DAMN it feels good.

I’ve a lot more to say about the awesome stuff in this game, but more later.

Anyway, that’s why I’ve been playing multiple games. The trick to controlling this is that I still only allow myself the same amount of time to play in a week. CoH is easy — I only log on with Kate and I are going to play anyway. I’ve got a few things I want to be online to do with WoW, and when nothing is pressing there, I slowly slowly explore Middle Earth.

So then I get Kate a 10-day trial, and I say “You know… it’d be cool if we were playing something together that was new for both of us.” And we have tried it out, and it IS fun. Different, but fun.

The question though, is whether it was ENOUGH fun, because Kate is NOT a freak like me, and does NOT want two active MMO accounts out there for herself.

Our “main” team up (me as a tank, her as the RAW KILLING POWER) isn’t the highest level one, but they feel the most potent. No defeats for those two yet. They are level 9. (Game maxes at 50.)

The highest level pair (we’re BOTH playing halfling burglars, which should be a bit annoying and is instead awesome) is already the same level as the highest level solo guy that I have on the game after two months of playing — that should tell you something. They are level 13.
Plus we have a couple level 6 or 7s that each represent maybe 2 hours of play time, each.

That’s in less than a week of play, which has involved a little confusion, a lot exploration, and a LOT of getting used to the differences between CoH (a great ‘starter’ game) and LotRO.

But generally, it’s been fun, and the kind of fun that we decided we could continue to have even after the 10-day trial ran out. For me, that’s good news, but it was a particularly big step for Kate, because it meant moving off CoH entirely. Finally being “done,” with a game that has no finite ending… just a point where you decide to do something else.

Getting used to LotRO, and Customizing it to feel Right
1. Switch the x/y axis on your mouse.

2. In combat options, there’s a checkbox you can mark that will let you target ‘through’ the tank, like you can in CoH. Check that, if you’re ranged. If you’re melee, there’s another checkbox that has you automatically close to melee range with an enemy you ‘go aggro’ to. That’s damned useful. Check that.

3. There is no body buffer in LotRO, like there is in CoH and facing matters. Yes, on the streets of Paragon City, the body buffer is a stupid pain in the neck, but in COMBAT, it makes things SO CLEAN AND EASY. YOU CAN BE SO LAX in your placement.
In fact (and this works well with the superhero genre), the easy thing to do when tanking in CoH is jump into the very middle of a group of bad guys and go nuts. That’s a good way to get your butt handed to you in both WoW and Lotro.

a. You can’t fight something that your not facing, and the GAME won’t turn you to face someone you aren’t looking at, but whom you have targetted.

b. Your shield, your agility, and your basic dodge ability are ignored if your attacker isn’t in front of you. That HURTS.

c. No body buffer means that you have to make sure you’re not too close to the guy you’re fighting, or it might get treated as ‘behind you’, which sucks.

In short, combat is more thinking, more placement, more tactics, and a LOT more planning and coordination required, with painful penalties if you screw it up.

4. Mailboxes are awesome.

5. If you’re the kind of person who likes lots of little improvements to your character as you play, rather than playing for ages then getting a “Big level up”, DnD style, then you’ll like the fact that any armor or gear you get from the quests in LotRO could mean a new improvement to your character. Also, the “Badges” you can earn in CoH have a cousin in LotRO Deeds, which give you both a displayable Title (Yarren “of the Quick Post” or Tirra “Defender of the Shire”) as well as “Qualities” that you can become renowned for (and which buff you like CoH Accolades).

6. Go into Quicktabs and check “show Quick Tabs Row 1”. later, when you run out of places to put your abilities, turn on Row 2 or 3 or 4 or 5.

7. You start off with lots of inventory space, unlike WoW, so no worries there.

8. You will have a LOT more quests on your to-do list in LotRO, than you have in CoH. Don’t stress out about that. Those 20 quests are actually about five quests, if you group them by local areas, and can be summed up like so: “Go to the fields north of Hobbiton-Bywater: There are a lot of people having problems with wolves around there (three or four quests about dealing with wolves), and reports of a hobbit-sized black rider… check it all out.” So yeah: 135 quests in the Shire, all told, and you’ll still be done with the area around level 15, because they are, individually, much ‘smaller’ quests than a whole mission in CoH.

Still it’s a bit of a handful, so when organizing ‘what to do next’ just take a breath and do it calmly, without feeling like you need to rush it. A pause to organize, sell stuff, and get ‘the next things to do’ all set up means that you’ll have a much smoother, productive, fun series of adventures shortly thereafter.

Things I really like
Middle Earth is a low-magic, but high fantasy world. Lots of monsters, and very low-key magic.

How do you handle instant-healing, then? Why is it that Captains and Minstrels are the “healers”?

This is genius: your ‘health’ bar is “morale.”

Just ponder that a second: Morale. Your will to continue onward.

Your group is in a bad fight. The Captain yells a mighty Rallying Cry (group heal) and everyone’s back straigtens and they continue on. She turns to one person having a particularly rough time and reinforces their resolve (targeted heal).

The Minstrel singing songs of war and victory? Song of solace and comfort? OF COURSE that improves morale.

Burglars can heal themselves by playing a Trick on their foe and then pointing the trick out to everyone — it’s a self-heal called “Gleeful Mischief” — they improve their own morale by being tricky and playful. (Which goes right along with the fact that their single target “stun” (that only works on intelligent targets) is called “Riddle.”

Loremasters can heal another member of the fellowship, but in turn THEIR morale drops: Gandalf can reassure everyone that things will be all right, but their worries do not disappear… HE takes them on himself.

It’s just… I dunno. I kind of love it.

I love Fellowship Manuevers also (when your team can coordinate to make use of these great, powerful, “Tag team” moves on your opponents). I’ve never seen that in an MMO, though I have in some of the Final Fantasy series. It’s neat.

Okay, that’s all I have right now. it’s a big hodge podge.

End result? I’m letting CoH lapse, enjoying my WoW fun, and looking forward to many fun evenings exploring Middle Earth with Kate. (Heck, we’re playing on rewatching the movies together. 🙂


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