About Last Night

December 22, 2009 at 5:30 pm | Posted in LotRO, Minstrel, Mirkwood | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,

Last night I went into Dol Guldur.

I’m not sure that I really should have been there.  I started off the night a quarter of the way into level 63, and I am woefully under-geared.

Yes, I know I keep saying that one of the things I love about Lord of the Rings Online is that it isn’t gear dependant (apart from the radiance gated things that make me look like a farty-poo-pants liar) but I don’t think I suffered *too* much from being woefully under-geared.

Apart from being inspected to death upon joining my lovely kin-mates at the entrance, that is.  It was a tad embarrassing being informed that some of the gear I was wearing dated back to level 40s, but in my defence I’d not realised how old some of it was.  It was a useful experience though, and I did get the offer of a new set of assorted geegaws and baubles, which is a bonus.

And I do realise that whilst the game may not be as gear dependant as some, good gear does make a difference, and whilst it may not make hard content a nice stroll through a park on a balmy summers’ day, it does make life easier.

So, yet another reminder to improve my gear.  This time, it was similar to being told by a doting parent to go and put a warm jumper and scarf on, because it’s cold outside.

Kinships.  Sometimes they’re like families.

As to the instance itself?

Well, I don’t want to ruin the sense of discovery for anyone else, so rather than comment on specifics, I’ll try to keep to concepts and themes.  I may well put in a more detailed post some point in the future, when I’m less likely to spoiler the ares off someone else’s fun.

Big fun.  Admittedly, the rest of the group I was with had faced these bosses previously, and had figured out how to defeat them, so I just had to follow instructions and stand in the right places.  But I had big fun. 

Visually, Dol Guldur is dark, gloomy and depressing.  Sort of like Preston but with orcs.  If anyone’s spent any time in Preston, they’d agree with me.  The only thing Preston has of note is a really, really big bus station, and Dol Goldur reminds me of that bus station at 6:30 in the morning. 

I think what surprised me most is that someone had taken the time to make the Trash fights interesting.  I hope that this is a purposeful thing, as opposed to random accident. 

As it was, many of the fights seem to have been designed to be more technically interesting.  Positioning, even as a healer, was more important.  It wasn’t a case of me hiding at the back and spamming the big heal on the tank; there’s a measure of Area Of Effect damage and some fun interrupt abilities being thrown out by the monsties that made life interesting, to put it mildly.

It’s as if Turbine want us to feel like it’s the whole experience of the instance that counts, and that’s more than a little refreshing.  With each fight feeling a little like a mini-boss encounter, it makes travelling through the tower feel like a journey, rather than an exercise in time-wasting thanks to a procession of Tank’N’Spank time-fillers.

We faced off against three bosses.  I’ve no idea how many bosses there are in the 6-man instance, but they were tough challenges.  If I’m completely honest, I’m a little relieved that I wasn’t high enough level to be a part of the learning process, because they are technical fights, where I found myself going through a lot more skills than I did even in The Rift.

It was only at the third Boss that we wiped, and after a second attempt and wipe we called it a night (it was bed-time for Minstrel Hawley), but in that time I’d gained an insight into Dol Goldur.

Maybe it’s the novelty that makes the place seem really cool, and that familiarity will dull that excitement; I’ve been informed that multiple runs will be needed to get armour sets.

But it looks promising.  In a way that Preston Bus Station doesn’t.




Whee! Mirkwood!!

December 3, 2009 at 4:27 am | Posted in Mirkwood | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,


I am.

The release of Siege of Mirkwood comes at a busy time for me, socially.  But I’m still really looking forward to spending some time in a frenzy of discovery, as I get to find out what this latest expansion brings to my favourite MMO.

And there are so many aspects of Siege of Mirkwood that I can’t wait to hurl myself into; skirmishes sound fantastic, Mirkwood is a vivid memory of reading The Hobbit at a young age, and the prospect of booting down doors in Dol Goldur is quite possibly the coolest instance and raiding prospect since someone pointed to The Rift and said; “Yeah, there’s a balrog at the bottom”.

Just the notion of adventuring through Dol Goldur really whets my appetite.  The name has a resonance that other games just can’t match;  Ulduar was fun to wander around, but it was only ever a place to grab trez and have a laugh.

Dol Goldur is a place of shadow, perverting the nature of the land around it.  It’s more than Sauron’s home-from-home.  It’s just… epic in nature.

I appreciate that I’m frothing like the worst sort of fan boy, but this is cool stuff here.  The prospect of taking on the Lieutenant of Dol Goldur is one that’s as exciting as taking on a balrog.  We all know that raids are there so we can get the phattest lewtz, but sometimes it’s fantastic to be going there because it’s somewhere that just makes you want to squee! in excitement.

Generally, grouping up for regular questing means that everything rushes by; mobs designed for solo players get eaten alive by two characters, but without 6 there’s no chance of an instance.  It seems that Skirmishes are the answer; scalable by player number, level and difficulty, they seem tailor-made to recreate all the fun of group gaming and instancing, providing a meaningful challenge, and without relying on any arbitrary player number.  And it has random elements, just to make it even better.

I’m really hoping it’s as Made Of Win as public quests were in Warhammer Online.  Which I miss.  A lot.

So, here I am; hopping up and down on my seat because I really, really want to play.


The One that Got Away (from me)

November 4, 2009 at 5:03 am | Posted in General, LotRO, World of Warcraft | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,

What is it with the current gaming obsession with fishing?

I am not a fisherman.  I don’t like the concept of sitting on the bank of a canal, freezing my bits off, being forced to drink Bovril from a nasty flask just to keep alive, whilst attempting to catch something, anything, other than a shopping trolley.  Only to just throw it back in, once I’ve caught something.

I do have positive memories of fishing.  Sitting on the bank of the Zambezi River, catching Breem and cooking them on a fire as they came out of the water, with a net full of beer and wine cooling in waters that would soon be tumbling over Victoria Falls.  Where the hazards were crocodiles and hippos, rather than freezing to death in English drizzle.

Admittedly, they are amongst my first memories, being about 4 years of age at the time, but I’m not altogether anti-fishing.  I can understand that other people can go out fishing, and really enjoy it as a hobby, as a past-time.

MMOs definitely aren’t anti-fishing.  Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online are big proponents of this sport of princes.  And now I’m hearing about fishing in Torchlight, which is admittedly not an MMO yet, but is to be the basis of one at some point in the future.

Hmm.  Fishing has always seemed to be a barely disguised time-sink to me.  It was wholly comprised of not-fun.  I gave fishing more than a fair chance; it was required for alchemy and cooking, and it was a “fun mini-game” to boot.  I pretty soon learned that for me, it wasn’t.  I could spend a couple of hours fishing for a small amount of gain, or I could spend that same couple of hours instancing, or running around making small change from monsties.

I’ve heard that it’s a wonderful change of pace, but if I want a change of pace from an MMO, I can play another game.  Or watch a film.  I’m just not an electronic fisherman, and never will be.

I remember when it wasn’t the case; when gaming magazines would ritually humiliate the various fishing simulations that would be released for the pc.  How times change.  Maybe fishing games need to start adding in monster-killing mini-games in order to get better reviews and more acceptance amongst gamers…

It also makes me wonder about hobbies in games.  Fishing was supposed to be the start of the hobby system in Lord of the Rings Online, but I’ve yet to see another hobby within the game.

I think one of the things that makes me wonder about the whole thing is that MMOs are supposed to be the hobby.  Why do I need a hobby, within my hobby?



Cold Turkey

November 3, 2009 at 5:00 am | Posted in General, LotRO | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

I have replaced my hard drive.  Not for any bad “Aiee!  The hard drive!  She explode!” reasons, but because whenever I install a new operating system (as opposed to reinstalling) I like to install it on a clean hard drive rather than upgrading or overwriting the previous operating system.

Yes, this means I installed Windows 7.  I’m sure there are plenty of other operating systems out there, but this one means I can continue to play games in the manner to which I have become accustomed.  It also means I’m not going to need six months of getting used to a new operating system, with all the associated entertainment that entails.  Yes, I’m a slacker.

But this isn’t a plug for Microsoft.  There is a reason for me prattling on here.

You may remember that I decided to cancel my subscriptions, in an effort to rationalise my playing, and save some cash (apparently you have to pay for weddings, rather than them just sort of… happen.  I suppose planning will be a part of it too.  This whole “Wedding Day” thing can be a bit sucky at times.  If Star Wars Lego isn’t involved, there’ll be heck to pay).  Well, despite subscriptions being cancelled, those games stayed installed, their icons taunting and seducing me like painted Whitechapel harlots

I find it surprisingly hard to uninstall MMOs.  It’s the lengthy patching process that annoys; I just want to get in and play, rather than watch a bar move across a screen.  And that means it’s quicker and easier to cave in and get another month’s play in.  Impulse buying?  Oh yes.

Well, it’s all moot now.  I spent last night reinstalling Lord of the Rings Online, and Fallen Earth should be ready for me by the time I get home.  Other than that, the drive is bare of games, the desktop free of icons.  And I have, at this time, no intention of installing any other MMOs.  It’s a tad “cold turkey” for someone who likes to have a choice of what MMO to play, but sticking to one game (and a free trial) for a while is probably a good thing for me; for too long I’ve been living the life of a jet-setting MMO playboy.  Time to settle down with a good game, and give it the attention it deserves.

There is an added benefit, though.  In refusing to get Vista (and with the beta client of Windows 7 not seeming to want me to use DirectX10) I was playing Lord of the Rings Online with DirectX9 drivers.  No longer.  I got to log on for a few moments before bed-time last night, and gosh.  Pretty.

Very pretty.



Hawley, destroyer of amphibians

October 29, 2009 at 7:56 am | Posted in LotRO, Minstrel, Moria, raiding | 5 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,

Recently, I killed a turtle.

Admittedly, that’s not the most impressive-sounding of feats.  And it’s a turtle that many others have defeated before me.

At first, it even looked like a particularly weedy opponent (especially for a raid), but pretty soon I discovered, in true Father Ted stylee, that this was because the turtle was Far, rather than Small.  This turtle was a big turtle.  So much so that it went from being “the turtle” to “The Turtle” pretty rapidly.

I’d not faced off against The Turtle previously.  It’s a one monster, one room fight.  It’s a test of dps, where the idea is to race between the amount of damage we can kick out, against the rapidly increasing amount of dot damage the monsty kicks out.

In an age where fighting raid bosses seem to be more a case of performing random crazy acts at the same time as tanking, damaging and healing, this was a refreshing change.  After time spent in Ulduar, this was a fantastically straight-forward fight for a healer;

Can I keep healing fast enough, and cleverly enough, to keep everyone alive?  Or am I going to blow my power so fast that we all end up dying?

It was also a reminder of why I love raiding.  I love pitting my wits and skill against a situation, and constantly wondering if I’ve got it right.  Especially when I’m in a situation that I’ve not encountered before.  Because I’m targeting other raid-members rather than the monsty itself, I have no idea how much longer I need to keep things together; feeling like it’s just about to unravel when the raid boss drops is the best feeling in the world.

It was the first time I’ve been involved in killing Nornuan.  Probably won’t be my last.



Now we are 60

October 20, 2009 at 7:54 pm | Posted in LotRO, Minstrel | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,

The Poppets have a reason to be proud of their slacker son.  Hawley Poppet has finally got to level 60.  It happened a few days ago (thanks to the vagaries of scheduling, and the fact that I’m a slacker), there was a small amount of “Woohoo”, and a celebratory brew was partaken of.  A tea well-earned, I felt.

It’s no speed record; I don’t really mind about that.  I got there on my own time, and got there because I wanted to, rather than felt like I had to.  All in all, it was more than worth making the effort.  For all the times I spent lost in the dark, crying into my tea at the unfairness of making someone who gets lost on the way to the toilet in his own house have to navigate Moria’s rather labyrinthine zones, there was a moment of wonder, of beauty, and glorious technicolour.

Eregion, Moria and Lothlorien are great places to visit, great zones with plenty of content.  They’re also packed to bursting with atmosphere; some of that will be hold-over from the books and films, but most of it comes from the fabulous design and stunning vistas that the developers have put in.  Levelling through them has been great.

But it did make me start to ponder a few things about what happens next.

I’ve not looked into it fully, but I do believe that next comes the Radiance Grind.  Getting enough of the right pieces of radiance armour set to be able to go and play with the other big kids in the big kid’s adventure playground.  This might have filled me with fear in the past; with so many people already fully geared up, would I be able to persuade them to go back to somewhere that they’re already sick of going to?

Burnout is something that’s endemic in MMOs.  We don’t *have* to run the same content again and again, but if we want to get to the Mad Hatter’s tea party we have to follow the White Rabbit.  And the White Rabbit likes repeating content.

I like instancing and raiding.  For me, it’s the joy of working together as a team to defeat the obstacles placed in our path rather than gaining trez, so I can be pretty tolerant of going and repeating content.  I tend to burnout on an instance when the content and challenge become trivial, rather than through overdoing it.

Of course, I’m now ready (just in time) for another 5 levels of the levelling game when Siege of Mirkwood comes out.


Overdue at the Library

October 19, 2009 at 4:02 am | Posted in LotRO, Minstrel | 3 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,

I am a voracious reader.  When younger, my parents were constantly worried that I’d end up some sort of freak because in any possible moment, when not told to do something, I’d have my nose in a book.

Of course, they needn’t have worried.  I am a perfectly normal and well-adjusted individual, as anyone can tell.  Normal.  Very.  Me.

So it is with a certain sense of irony that I can report that when it comes to completing the Book quest lines, which play such a large part of questing in Lord of the Rings Online, I am completely rubbish.


It’s almost embarrassing.  I know why the rot started though; my dislike of PUGs.  And because so many chapters required groups, I just sort of ignored them.  And as many were unrepeatable at first it meant that getting into a group with kin-mates was more difficult than it needed to be.

The last straw was a particularly torrid tour of the Trollshaws in the company of Legolas, two other hunters, and three other minstrels.  I still look back on that run, and giggle hysterically.  Least said, soonest mended.

I also have a habit of being ocd enough to only want to do them in order.  So apart from the prologue to Volume 2 which is compulsory if you want to go into Moria, I’m stuck at Volume 1 Book 8.  Chapter 5.

However, I am going to change this.  My new resolution is to have ALL books in both Volumes completed by the time Siege of Mirkwood comes out.  I shall!  I shall!


Well, they’re a large chunk of the Lord of the Rings Online gaming experience that I’m missing out on.  And when I do partake, it’s no longer a challenge.  I like challenge in games, so by spending the next few weeks catching up on the books, I can at least get to the point where I am making the most of the Book experience.

They are also a fantastic way of making the most of the Middle Earth setting; the Books are grand stories, epic in feel.  Defending Trestlebridge, hanging out with Gimli whilst he takes on most of a zone by himself, witnessing the departure of *the* Fellowship from Rivendell.  Moments in time, that take me from being just another player to someone that’s a part of what is going on.

Despite my neglect of the Books, they have done a fantastic job of drawing me into the game that Turbine have created; Minstrel Hawley feels far more a part of Middle Earth than Shaman Herewerd ever will in Azeroth.


Fiscal Sobriety broke my Shaman

October 10, 2009 at 3:45 am | Posted in Aion, General, LotRO, World of Warcraft | 2 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,

Syp’s crusade at Bio Break on behalf of Fallen Earth is to be commended.  I’ve gone from a passing interest to really wanting to know more.

But it’s also making me realise that it’s time I sorted out my gaming subscriptions.

I currently have 5 active subscriptions.

Lord of the Rings Online
World of Warcraft
Warhammer Online
Age of Conan

Why the realisation, followed by rationalisation?  Well, I have a wedding to save for, and I need to take a leaf out of Minstrel Hawley’s new fiscal policy if I’m going to have any meaningful savings.  I’d rather not have a wedding paid for with plastic.  Doesn’t that sound responsible?  Yeah, I know I’m going to spend it on Star Wars Lego too, but I’m doing my best here.

Currently I’m paying for four games, and two of them I don’t play that much.  Poor Warhammer Online has suffered since the loss of Warrior Priest Hawley into the chaos between servers, and Age of Conan is fun, but only in short bursts.  If I’m being brutally honest, neither is getting the amount of playtime to warrant the money I’m spending on them.  Despite the fact that Warhammer Online makes my tummy all warm, and for so many reasons, it has to go.  Age of Conan can follow it.

World of Warcraft is in a strange place since leaving my raiding group.  I’ve been levelling my alts in odd moments, but it’s mainly just going on, using up rested allowance, then leaving them.  There’s no real hold there, more a sense of just marking time before Cataclysm.  Maybe that’s my own version of millennial fever.  Maybe I should get raiding again, to reignite that interest.

Lord of the Rings Online is free from danger, because I have a lifetime subscription for it.  Besides, it’s the biggie.  Whilst I love all my MMO children equally, I love Minstrel Hawley more equally than all the others.  So for two reasons, Lord of the Rings Online is thoroughly safe.

This leaves Aion.

Aion is new.  I’ve been playing it for the last week or so.  Could I really kill it before gets the chance to shine?

Well, I did that with Everquest 2.  I took its Old Yeller self behind the barn and blew the poor sucker away without a second thought.  And it didn’t even get the chance to become Old.  Whilst I have some curiousity at times, I’ve never regretted that decision.

But I want to see how the first couple of months go with Aion, so it can stay.  To use common parlance, it gets a free ride into the next round.

So the big question is World of Warcraft.  Both Warhammer Online and Age of Conan are already going back into the box, to be taken out again when my financial situation improves and when I feel the urge to give them the time they deserve.

World of Warcraft may well be joining them.  I can get it out again when Cataclysm is released, after all.  I think I’ll cancel, but with the option to continue if I find my interest is renewed in some way.

By the time you read this, I shall have cancelled subscriptions and all but Aion (and Lord of the Rings Online, of course) should be on their countdown timer.  And from next month, I should be able to save another small chunk of cash.  Then I shall really, really hope that Fallen Earth doesn’t get a full European release.  There’s too much temptation there already.


Addendum:  I have been informed that Champions Online also has a lifetime subscription cost.  This is surprisingly attractive at the moment, so I might have to see if the word on the street improves.

All That Glisters…

October 8, 2009 at 3:40 am | Posted in LotRO | 2 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,

You may remember me deciding to change my packrat ways a short while ago.

How is that going?

I’m rich!

Okay, I’m not going to be hanging around in the millionaire’s club anytime soon, but compared to my previous hand-to-mouth existence, I’m very, very well off.


Well, I cleared my bags of everything that wasn’t of immediate use, or craft related.  Anything soulbound was vendored.  This gave me enough space to go out, kill stuff, and bring back more than enough monsty-tat to cover the cost of my armour repairs, and then some.  It’s a trickle of cash that turns into a flood, over time.

I cleared all the quests that involved carrying things around, or abandoned them for later picking up again later.  If I’m not doing the quest now, then it’s a stack of monsty-tat, or it’s a nice item that I can’t carry.

The Auction House is now my friend.  Anything that had been cluttering bags that could make a profit was sold on the auction house.  Anything that I pick up nowadays that the character cannot use gets put for sale.  Less of this account-based-twinking malarkey says fiscally ruthless Hawley!

If I make craft something as part of raising my crafting level, it goes on the Auction House.  If no-one in guild immediately wants it, it’s going on the auction house.  White dyes do very nicely.

As to the Auction House?  I don’t buy anything from it.  I don’t have the time or the patience for auction house speculation.  I don’t want to be bothered following trends, or trying to guess what’s going to be in demand in the next week.

There’s also the question of worth.  Something is only worth as much as someone who wants it is willing to pay for it.  So as long as I’m making a profit, I don’t care if someone else is getting a bargain.  This means I’m generally undercutting by a savage margin.  Legendary weapons are a lovely little earner for me.  Third Age weapons drop often, and I can sell them really easily.  Someone else thinks they’ve got a bargain, I get a small amount of cash for something that I could use in cash form more than item form, and everyone’s happy.

Yes, I’m not making as much money as I could with my undercutting ways.  But I am selling often, and this means that money is constantly coming in.  That trickle is very much turning into a flood.

It also means that I can play the game with less having to worry about Hobbit bailiffs coming round to my lovely hobbit hole and boarding up the door for non-payment of ground rent…


Expendable Minions, and other musings

October 3, 2009 at 11:50 am | Posted in LotRO | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

Having read the official releases about Siege of Mirkwood, I’ve been thinking about this new Skirmish system, and how it might work.  Yes, sometimes I get bored.  And then I start to ponder the unponderable, with no real information to back it up.  Random speculation and suchlike.  This is one of those times.

I like the idea of having an Expendable Minion whom I can mould to my satisfaction, but don’t need to worry about controlling in the heat of the action.  If I want to be smug and have something else do all the work, I’ll get Herewerd out of his box and be all Loremaster-y.

Making up the numbers is good, but I think the customisation is a work of genius.  I love my expendable minions.  Because I can sacrifice them to achieve my aims.  I don’t *care* about them, though.  I almost, almost cared about my World of Warcraft Hunter pet, but mainly because I had to be all special snowflakey and get a Ghost Sabre.  Cue an hour of stupid statue-fiddling amongst various angry naga because I didn’t want wait until I was at a decent survivable level.

And this was when Warcraft Hunter Pets had the loyalty mechanic, so you *had* to be nice to them.  Well, nice-ish.  I’d feed it after having it brutally slaughtered to save my repair bills.

But if I get to customise my new Expendable Minion, yet not control him, then maybe he stands a chance.  Because he would be less of a Minion, he might end up being less Expendable.  I might even care about the little chap.

Replayability=good.  We spend so much time repeating ourselves, in online gaming.  Daily quests.  Repeatable reputation quests.  Levelling alts.  Running raids and instances for rare-drop phat-lewtz.

And the result?  Burnout.  Not fun.

If the skirmish system is kept deliberately simple; “Defend the Prancing Pony”, then you can safely allow random elements to creep in.  Change the type/make-up of the attacking mobs.  Change where and when they attack from.  Change the duration of the fight.  Some will be easy, some will be difficult.  Random chance can be a harsh mistress.  But it will make them less of a formula-following trez-gathering exercise, and more of a fun, fast and frantic experience.

I want that.  It makes a skirmish more replayable.  More of a challenge.  And less likely to become just another repeatable bore.

I think it’s the skirmish system, more than anything else, that excites me about Siege of Mirkwood.  I have a few alts languishing in the doldrums, as I’ve no interest in running through the same content again and again.  However, the opportunity to get on, blast through a few skirmishes, and move on, seems like a great way to level at leisure, without feeling like I’m grinding my way through levels.


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