Archive for the Virtual Tourism Category

Lost trails of LoTRO: Vol X

Posted in Roleplay, Virtual Tourism on September 21, 2015 by The Iron Dagger

The lonely ride of Redwine Eardwrecca, exiled Rider of Rohan, concludes. Retrace his hoofbeats from Vol I through II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, and IX!

It occured to me that it’s been nearly four months since I started this series, and that was just a while after I launched The Iron Dagger as well! I can’t help but feel a trace of wistfulness.

As such, while I know there’s plenty more ‘lost trails’ out there in Turbine’s Middle-earth to snap and show, I’ve opted to wrap on an especially nostalgic note by sharing my old screenshots of a place I’m sure many LoTRO veterans feel wistful about too – the Rift of Nûrz Ghâshu.

Lava keepI don’t recall much lore around the Eldgang in-game, so I have no idea who those statues represent, if indeed they represent anyone at all. But they do make for a pretty grand backdrop, and the lava helps further.

Drake-haunted townArguably my favorite view of the Rift’s interior. The forlorn, crumbled feel of the city streets, shadowed by that enormous coliseum and with drakes gliding eerily overhead, screams evil. Turbine will have quite the task, if they want Mordor to beat this for sheer sinister magnificence.

Unreachable buildingsSome of the Rift’s unreachable buildings. From this distance, they look almost ghostly – and occupied. First time I was here, I imagined the raid was being watched by dread eyes from way over there.

Colosseum exterior“Have you ever seen anything like that before? I didn’t know men could build such things.”

Colosseum interiorSadly, I think this is the only part of the Rift many post-Shadows of Angmar LoTRO players have seen – Norbar, where the Rescue in Nûrz Ghâshu Skirmish takes place. Oh well. At least Turbine repurposed it.

Fall of ThaurlachNeeds no introduction, eh? A dead Balrog is something you don’t want to miss screenshotting.

This was taken during the one and only time I found a raid that managed to slay Thaurlach. With all the water and the beautiful Elvish statues casting their light rays, this is really not that bad a place for eternal imprisonment.

Ferthu hál from Redwine

And with that, Redwine’s ride is at an end – on this blog at least.

(I wanted to snap him riding into the sunset, with Weathertop as a backdrop. Seemed appropriate, and doubly so given Imladris is going down soon. But you know what? That symbolism is far too cliched, so enjoy this pretty pink foredawn sky instead.)

What’s next for me in LoTRO? Honestly, I have no idea. Even though I have a surfeit of Turbine Points remaining – enough for an expansion and several quest packs at that – I no longer have a surfeit of time or interest. Returning full-time to play through the content is therefore as out of the question now as it ever was.

I could still log in now and then to look for roleplay, but on that front, I have no reason to expect anything different from the garden-variety stuff I’ve grown inured to over the years. Unless I join a guild, that is, and I don’t imagine most RP guilds want folks who only turn up sporadically. But who knows? Perhaps sometime in the future, when the mood strikes, I’ll get Redwine moved to Laurelin and look into fulfilling that age-old dream of finding him some dedicated Rohirrim RP. If you’re on that server and you spot him trotting around, give him a holler.

Ultimately, I can’t bring myself to uninstall the game and consign it to the trash can of memory, like all the friends who used to play with me have long since done. I remember talking about the good old days in Bree-land with one of them once, and mentioning how I missed running around on foot in cheap, vendor-bought hauberks and backpacks – and him answering that he thought I’d miss the teamwork (that you can get in any MMO) instead. They lack the predisposition for attachments to virtual worlds.

I don’t. And that’s why The Lord of the Rings Online is staying where it is on my desktop. Turbine’s Middle-earth is a part of me now as a gamer; not merely for the hundreds of hours I put into it, but for the enrichment all that playtime gave my gaming life.

The road goes ever on and on. Ferthu gamer hál!

“Let them come! Come on! Come on!”

Posted in Random Thoughts, Virtual Tourism on September 19, 2015 by The Iron Dagger

That’s from Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, and the full speech is probably a mighty strong contender for Most Uninspiring Pre-Battle Pep Talk in film history – made even worse by the fact that it’s Orlando Bloom delivering.

I couldn’t resist using it to title this post. Because all I could think of was the movie’s depiction of the Siege of Jerusalem, the first time I found myself in the midst of this.

Violette Vienele and the trebuchets

There was no pretty-boy leader giving speeches, but even so, my maiden Cyrodiil jaunt proved, thankfully, much less uninspiring.

I’m not sure if it’s shone through strongly enough in my posts on this space, but PvP and I aren’t on the best of terms. Coming from a benchwarmer background in competitive FPS, and the freakshow that was The Lord of the Rings Online‘s Monster Play, I took my Breton Nightblade into the Alliance War proper with no expectations whatsoever. Beyond getting two-shotted ten feet outside the safe zone – if I was lucky.

The reason for even being there was simple. I don’t have the Imperial City DLC, but when a high-level acquaintance beckoned, I figured I wouldn’t mind just seeing its walls again for some TES4 nostalgia. Happily, she managed to pull in a couple of equally high-level friends, and off we went like veterans breaking in a privileged new recruit.

As is the way of things, we got waylaid – but by the wealth of things to do, instead of any two-shot nonsense.

Violette Vienele entertaining the troops

The first thing that struck me about Cyrodiil was that it was, as I should have expected, a giant rogues’ gallery. Memories of my time in Defiance‘s Shadow War came rushing back. There, it was ‘all cloaked swordsmen and imba DoT guns’, as I saw one disgruntled player put it. Here, it was Nightblades, Nightblades everywhere!

As my 4-man posse went about its leisurely business seeking Skyshards, destroying Dark Anchors and clearing Delves, the sneaks began to show up, attempting to sully the PvE and kill-steal us from the mobs. One unlucky Khajiit lost no less than three of his nine lives to us, in three different places, that evening – prompting me to dub our group the Dogs of War.

It was tremendous fun, and more so when we raced to join the Covenant warfighters converging on this or that keep. But with the realization that one is never truly safe in the Imperial Province came a second: I wanted to enjoy said Province, but couldn’t.

It hit me as I rode into Chorrol for the first time. I found myself, unwisely, slowing my gallop to look at the town in flyby, trying to connect it with the Chorrol I knew from TES4 – mysteriously weightless Honorblade and all. Perhaps it was the speed at which we were moving, or the distraction of constant high alert, but no such connection came. Likewise when our trip took us through the nearby Weynon Priory, that endearingly familiar first stop (yes, I used fast travel back in the day. Have at me) after emerging from the Imperial City’s dungeons.

The names from TES4 had become simply that – names. Decorative pieces on a map that now served an entirely different – and some would say, contrary – purpose.

Violette Vienele seeing the light in the Crypt of Hearts

But as I had learned to remind myself from the beginning, this is not Skyrim Online. Nor is it Oblivion Online. Hence, when the sieges began, I took them for what they were worth: transient collaborations between players who wouldn’t bother with each other otherwise.

That wasn’t a condemnation. It’s no different from any other truism – like there are no compacts between lions and men; wolves and sheep have no accord. Everyone knew what they had signed up for, and acted according to their interests within the common interest. Like any real-world war that wasn’t the American Civil War. My own interests were learning more, and experiencing more – and I got what I was after. I’ll be back as long as there are collaborations to lend a hand to.

And perhaps, somewhere between all the cross-country mobilizing and frantic dancing with cloaked swordsmen, I’ll rediscover the Cyrodiil that I seem to have lost.

An early post-mortem: GW2’s Mordrem Invasion

Posted in Random Thoughts, Virtual Tourism on September 13, 2015 by The Iron Dagger

I was kind of stoked for Guild Wars 2‘s Mordrem Invasion. Perhaps I should have seen it coming – with a legend like the Battle for Lion’s Arch under its belt, I should’ve known ArenaNet would pull something of the sort before the game’s first-ever expansion.

As a newcomer to Tyria, it felt like a case of right time, right place.

It didn’t quite turn out that way, though. In fact, after just a couple hours of hard chewing, I could push myself back from the table and look at the pie for what it was: a preheated filling of grind mixed with hilarious frustration, wrapped in a thin crust of déjà vu.

So I made an early exit, and here I am rambling while Mordremoth’s minions continue to invade Tyria.

One of the first things that struck me about the event was the sheer amount of running. I still haven’t wrapped my head around the fact that there are no mounts in GW2, so the result is a good deal of amusingly cadenced mass cross-country. It looked more like a cosplay marathon than an army of heroes hastening to the front to repel an elder dragon’s assault.

Lady Lairyn Aurey joining the Mordrem warpathNow where have I experienced this before? Where have I run with dozens of random strangers in sight along the same route before? Oh yes. Defiance. All those hours of tyre-burning up and down the roads of post-apocalyptic San Francisco, rushing from arkfall to arkfall like the professional plunderers our characters there were. Which is what we’re doing here, innit? Just in a different context.

That was the déjà vu. Sinking my teeth past that, I tasted the grind.

Each zone-wide incursion lasted just half an hour, and reaping the most rewards within that window meant repelling the Mordrem twenty times throughout the zone. Wow. Having just made the connection between the Mordrem and Defiance‘s arkfalls, I immediately thought of Trion’s ‘who grinds wins’ contest.

I wouldn’t have committed to that, and neither did I feel inclined to commit to this – especially with the frustration mixed in.

Lady Lairyn Aurey arriving at the Mordrem battlefrontI’m not a fan of tab-targeting, and I was playing a melee-focused Guardian. Unlike in Defiance, where I could stand on the periphery of the big clusterbleep and pick my shots, the Mordrem incursions had me in the thick of said bleep, scooting back and forth like in a Keystone Kops movie, swiping ineffectually while Mordrem died in droves faster than I could blink.

Net result: I was introduced to that ugly gnarled stick called the scepter and its corresponding usefulness in a boss fight.

But frustration aside, resorting to ranged underscored something else for me: the tagging mechanic. I didn’t engage in it, but I certainly shook my head when I saw it surface in map chat. Back in WoW, it was ranged classes stealing mob kill credits from melee ones. Here, it was people bouncing off incursions like rabid London-in-a-day tourists, doing the bare minimum at each one to pick up credit.

That would be the dead insect in the pie, I guess. I hope there wasn’t something like this going on when Scarlet Briar invaded. Events like this are supposed to bring out the best in all the world’s citizens, not just on the game level but on the meta level as well.

Lady Lairyn Aurey facing the Mordrem

I don’t care much for the rewards, even though I could consider myself in the camp that thinks them inadequate. I also know this event is also a chance for older players to get a second shot at stuff they missed during Lion’s Arch. None of it matters to me. Looking at the Mordrem Invasion as a whole, I see only an underdone and unnecessary addition to an already sumptuous banquet table.

Good thing I didn’t get my fingers too dirty eating this pie.

Lost trails of LoTRO: Vol IX

Posted in Roleplay, Virtual Tourism on September 7, 2015 by The Iron Dagger

The lonely ride of Redwine Eardwrecca, exiled Rider of Rohan, continues. Retrace his hoofbeats from Vol I through II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, and VIII!

For this penultimate entry, I considered delving into Moria, but I don’t have to go back there to remember that the whole blessed place is a ‘lost trail’ in its own right. I figured I’d be finding something to screenshot around every other corner, and just end up stuck on which one to use. (Probably some corner of the Water-works. Always loved that place.)

So I chose three other zones I haven’t ridden through yet – none of which would involve me tramping through pitch darkness. Come to think of it, a man of the Rohirrim exploring Moria would be a delicious irony, given the lore has established that horses hate the place…

View from Saruman's front door (2.2W, 79.2S)

View from Saruman’s front door

Nan Curunír (2.2W, 79.2S)

I know – who the hell roleplays in Isengard, right? But I’m including this shot for the rainbow show alone. I figured I’d be wasting my time in Saruman’s backyard, only to find something I liked on his porch.

I’m not sure if I noticed it the first time I set foot here, but the different shades of smoke grabbed me. Clearly a reference to Saruman of Many Colors, no? Not what I was expecting from a place the novels’ author imbued with his own animosity towards industry.

The mere mention of roleplaying in Isengard reminded me of this RP initiative from some years back. Well worth a read for the contrarian element alone!

Campsite near the Bitter Stair (2.9W, 19.1S)

Campsite near the Bitter Stair

Misty Mountains (2.9W, 19.1S)

Here’s one of the vanilla LoTRO zones I never experienced, being a Premium player who happens to be exceptionally stingy with his Turbine Points. Therefore, I never experienced Helegrod either – apart from a short venture inside one of its wings during the couple of months I was an active subscriber.

Doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge the zone’s beauty, however. It’s almost Forochel sans the foggy look, and the exterior of Helegrod itself is a thing to behold. This little camp sits in a snowy nook a short ride from the (itself dizzyingly scenic) Bitter Stair. I can easily imagine it used as a forward operating base for an assault on the Corcur, or for any RPed Helegrod raid.

You’ll have to share it with a pair of mute Dwarves, but who doesn’t prefer more company in such a cold and hostile land?

Flet near Brochos (69.3W, 17.5S)

Flet near Brochos

Lothlórien (69.3W, 17.5S)

I’ll say it: I don’t like Lothlórien. It’s no better than Mirkwood – the perpetual fairy fog and saturated look kills my attempts at decent screenshotting. I make do, though.

I’m aware that the Golden Wood is full of flets, and there seem to be a few different designs between them. This one, however, deserves special mention for its tight, train carriage-style layout (great for a small council!), as well as being unmarked on the map. A ‘lost trail’ indeed.

If only it was unoccupied! Would that LoTRO could adopt TESO’s murderous ways, and you could just punt that annoying Elf off the edge…

Me and Molag Bal

Posted in Random Thoughts, Virtual Tourism on September 4, 2015 by The Iron Dagger

 Minor spoilers for the Elder Scrolls Online main story below.

I’ll say this much for TESO – call it a themepark, but it’s got the most vein-pumping, tooth-and-nail story bossfights I’ve encountered in any MMO. Tank and spank is so last decade. How about furious kiting, turning on adds for frantic self-heals, and Unreal Tournament-like spindodging and LoS-breaking?

That pretty much sums up my final showdown with Molag Bal. Uninspired QTE-style elements and scripted ‘heroic execution’ moments aside, that fight has to rank among the best I’ve had in an MMO for excitement alone. Not to mention doing battle in that sweet, sweet divine armor… (Please make it available as a cosmetic!)

Violette Vienele vs Molag Bal

But even before old Tamrielic Diablo Stone-Fire up there, I had gotten gobsmacked with my fair share of these. Septima Tharn and her Mongolian horde tactics (I actually caved and called for help on that one, in vain), Mannimarco and his wrecking-ball ghosts… it doesn’t help that I’m running a mighty squishy Breton Nightblade. Footwork and self-heals, baby, footwork and self-heals!

I thought themepark MMO bosses weren’t supposed to be like this, not outside raids at any rate. Well, I’m not complaining. Switching mindsets on the fly, quick as a weapon swap, to do all of the above and then come out tops (and on the first attempt with Molag Bal!) – now that tastes better than any in-game achievement.

A far cry from my LoTRO days, where the game just slapped some uber buff onto you so you could stand in place and just do this.

Annúnion Arantir fighting in the flamesWhich makes me think. In recent years, I’ve seen – and agreed with – a trend of players wanting more out of their MMO combat. Auto-attacks, tab-targeting, and, yes, skillbars that utilize the whole keyboard and the buttons on your tournament-class gaming mouse are increasingly considered passé. (Yet WoW has all these – and even everybody’s favorite paragon, Guild Wars 2!) So is the LoTRO style of mostly static fighting – even in solo encounters.

This is far from a recent thought. When I first gave Neverwinter a shot a couple years back (as a Trickster Rogue no less), I was so taken with its fluid, responsive combat that when I dropped another MMO – I think it was Champions Online – and was asked in the exit survey why, I answered something to the effect of “because of your outmoded combat system”.

Yeah, I know I wasn’t being fair. An engine is an engine is an engine, and I might as well have been one of those whingers who bash Turbine for not ‘modernizing’ LoTRO’s graphics. But I continue to believe, especially after playing through TESO, that giving the player direct control over the action is the way forward in MMOs.

No MMO is free from a heavy combat element. To help retain the interest of today’s gamers, that combat needs to be visceral, fast-paced, and as responsive as possible. Nothing does that like mouselook, blow-by blow, and full ranges of motion.

Violette Vienele victoriousI shudder to think what might have been if the Molag Bal battle had been LoTRO-style: a button-cycling, skill-rotating faceroll with a huge serving of linear backpedaling.

For one, I doubt I’d have found it memorable. Of all the story bosses I conquered in Turbine’s Middle-earth, I remember only Mordirith before the gates of Carn Dûm. And that was because I duoed him with my buddy, who died shouting at me in chat because I was typing in-combat RP dialogue when I should have been grabbing aggro. Whoops.

And for two, I doubt I’d have even made it that far. When I started on TESO, I mentioned that it hadn’t really grabbed me like other MMOs had. I take that back. The combat system has played a major part in seeing me up to this stage in the game, and it will likely see me a good deal further before I’m done. Had TESO not made me fight for my boss kills – and some non-boss kills too – I might have just gotten bored early.

Guess my Nightblade’s soul wasn’t the only thing I took away from Molag Bal.

A foray into ‘practical roleplaying’

Posted in Random Thoughts, Virtual Tourism on August 30, 2015 by The Iron Dagger

RP continues to be rare as white crows on TESO, so, on a whim, I thought I’d dip my toes back into LoTRO roleplay. But given the still-thick coat of rust on my MMO RP skills (that Bree-lander I rolled a while back didn’t get far), I thought of getting into the spirit of it by practicing alone first.

A weird thought struck me then: if I’m RPing by myself, why not be of practical use to somebody while I’m at it?

I slowed, and let the idea blossom. I’d have to pick a place low-level characters quest in, and I’d have to… oh, snap. Be a healer.

As a rule of thumb, I play only DPS classes in MMOs. Not since I stopped playing LoTRO proper (some years ago now) have I had the time to invest in tank classes, with their attendant responsibilities and learning curves. And I shun healers. My first Great Barrow run as a Minstrel was enough to convince me that scrutinizing health bars like a Wall Street trader is not my ideal way to play a game.

Which is why, apart from said Minstrel, I have only one other character in my LoTRO menagerie that can heal: a Captain, who I originally rolled to do righteous DPS.

But, serendipitously, I had also conceived him as an itinerant Gondorian scholar with a keen interest in the ruins of the northern Dúnedain. There he was on my menu – all decked out in the Snow-Dusted Traveling set I had painstakingly earned for him during 2012’s Yule Festival. So it was off to the Midgewater Marshes with him and a hotbar slotted with heals only.

A traveller from an antique land

The Marshwater Fort was the ideal spot, I thought. Lowbies were bound to pass through on the Epic Quest, and face the spider queen, who they might need help with. (Come on, doesn’t everybody want their Undying title?)

So I explored the ruins at a leisurely walk, often stopping to study the Dúnedain altar outside, awaiting beneficiaries in a vaguely hilarious predatory inversion.

Rivaldir Arthion in the Marshwater Fort

They came soon enough. Sporting their often unintelligible names and mishmash raiment, questing with the Aspergerish focus of veterans’ alts. Time to make myself useful.

I strode after the first one, a Lore-master, clicked on him, and stood by as he and his bird engaged the spider queen. My finger hovered over the key for Words of Courage. I would hit it as soon as he hit 50%, I decided.

Except he didn’t. The damned thing was no match for him at all. 75% was probably the lowest his health bar fell to before he finished up and sped through the nearby door to continue the Epic Quest. I could not follow, of course, so it was back to the altar. Next time, I thought.

Only there was no next time. The others blew past like so much tumbleweed – some were even overleveled and facerolling the spiders for deeds.

I sighed. So this is what the game’s become: so damned easy that nobody needs a heal around these parts anymore. Maybe I should set myself up at Baugarch, I thought – and that brought another scary canine boss to mind, which brought Haudh Iarchith to mind.

These lifeless things

Surely someone would set out to dare the place more or less on-level? And it was, with some stretching of the imagination, still within my Captain’s roleplaying ambit.

Off I went, and since there is no reasonable way to RP studying in a fetid pool swarming with walking dead, I perched most conspicuously atop the barrow’s entrance instead, listening to the crickets chirp.

Rivaldir Arthion outside Haudh Iarchith

And along came the tumbleweeds. One brought a high-level friend to power him through. Another went in and stood just inside the entrance, and when I offered assistance, simply ignored me and recalled out.

That was all. Wandering the Southern Barrow-downs didn’t help either. The one low-level character I saw, a Hunter taking on the corrupted Huorns in the southern forest, inexplicably stopped in the middle of nowhere and logged out upon noticing I was following and providing heals.

I had to chuckle at that. Had I just been taken for a creepy stalker? That’s a first.

The lone and level sands

I can take a hint when I want to. My Captain is back in the stable – and secure in the knowledge that his realm will be spared the Great Turbine Sunset. A stay of execution, as it probably is.

But when I reflected on this experience, limited as it was, I realized I had only one conclusion to draw: nothing’s changed. The very first time I reached out to another player in the open world, back in 2010, I got silence. The very first time I ran an instance without my friends, I was tripping over myself to catch up with the robots spearheading the charge.

Business as usual. And the joke’s on me, I guess.

Lost trails of LoTRO: Vol VIII

Posted in Roleplay, Virtual Tourism on August 24, 2015 by The Iron Dagger

The lonely ride of Redwine Eardwrecca, exiled Rider of Rohan, continues. Retrace his hoofbeats from Vol I through II, III, IV, V, VI, and VII!

After going as far as the banks of the Anduin the last round, I couldn’t stop thinking of the last time I had played for real, there in the Great River, and all the things that had contributed to my retirement from LoTRO: absent friends, game burnout, the telltale signs that Turbine wasn’t so ‘into it’ anymore. I remembered the sinking feeling, and the feeling of liberation as well.

For a moment, I felt more like Redwine than I ever have. The exile long abroad where the stars are strange, knowing he can never go home again.

Then I did something I thought I would never do. I stepped back into the role of the active LoTRO player, and pushed on to a place nearly three years old but which I had never seen – the Argonath. The content border between those who bought Riders of Rohan and those who didn’t.

I sat on the bank for a little while, admiring the silent wardens of a long-vanished kingdom. And then chuckled to myself and rode on back.

From that ride came more shots harking back to my last active weeks in LoTRO: shots of Dunland and the Great River, back when the high-levels partied in those places.

Water under the bridge.

Desolation of the Gardens (48.0W, 32.7S)

Desolation of the Gardens

Great River (48.0W, 32.7S)

I wish there was another, mob-free instance of this place to RP in, but too bad – the only way you’re getting in here is through a group of Signature-difficulty trolls.

Hands down, the Desolation gets my vote for Most Fairy-Tale-ish Place in Turbine’s Middle-earth. Look at that – way out in the Brown Lands, tucked away on the very edge of the map, it looks like something out of a Tim Burton production.

Turbine lore says this used to be a garden of the Entwives until it was ruined by Sauron during the War of the Last Alliance. Well, the last I heard of the Entwives was in the Old damned Forest, and this is a damned sight better-looking, so I’d say we need more of the Entwives in LoTRO.

Cliffs of eastern Pren Gwydh (13.0W, 79.5S)

Cliffs of eastern Pren Gwydh

Dunland (13.0W, 79.5S)

Dunland looks so much like Enedwaith, I feared I wouldn’t find anything worthy of inclusion in this series. The land proved me wrong. Not far from the uphill road to Tâl Methedras – itself a lovely little walk I almost snapped as well – the Dunlending cliffs offer sights to rival anything further north.

This spot, in particular, is a fine, flat slab of land where I can easily imagine Redwine pitching a tent and stoking a fire (if only such mechanics existed in LoTRO). Or perhaps keeping watch on that little cartrev down there…?

Weatherway (41.2W, 29.0S)

Weatherway

Bree-land (41.2W, 29.0S)

This lonely Arnorian bridge in the Weather Hills stands as one of the game’s finest examples of world & quest design. It sits in an area I’ve always thought to be one of LoTRO’s most neglected, just like Nen Harn up north. And it was that very remoteness that struck me.

What better place to take ownership of and enjoy a spot of secluded roleplay or screenshotting? Plus, being on the border between Bree-land and the Lone-lands, one can easily make a case for traveling in either direction.

I still wonder how many (or how few) have bothered to come out this far from Bree. Those who do will be rewarded with a small hub of repeatable quests, targeted at the Orc-infested ruins of Ost Alagos a short distance northeast. Skyrim much?