Comparative MMOlogy – LotRO

December 30, 2009 at 7:37 pm (Exile in DDOville, Misty Mountain Hop, Navel-Gazing)

So, having abandoned the DDO experiment, I figured I was probably done with MMOs.  Well, as I mentioned before, WoW isn’t quite done with me (though I’m not yet raiding, so I have to admit, I’m not all that excited about being back yet), and now, having gotten to play with it a bit (after a brief flirtation with it two years ago), it turns out Lord of the Rings Online isn’t quite done with me either.

I’ll be writing in more detail, but the short version – LotRO is a great example of a game where small, subtle tweaks can radically improve a gaming experience.  Two years of those little tweaks (and they are little – there was no doubt that, as I played around with it during the Christmas break, I was playing the same game, but it was a game with far fewer elements that frustrated me than was the case two years ago) have made a big difference.

It’s also a game that, in its RP-friendliness, does much of what I wish WoW would do.  Things like armor dyes, a music system (for your characters to play music – I kid you not), pipe-weed, costumes/appearance tabs, player housing, etc. give the world life – even as LotRO is less tongue-in-cheek than WoW – appropriately so, given Turbine’s enthusiasm for remaining faithful to the spirit of the subject matter –  the world feels more playful.   Among other things, its why LotRO draws, on average, an older, and (dare I say it) more mature player base than WoW does.  My guess is a higher proportion (for obvious reasons) of the player base are regular readers (no set of four letters so sears my soul as “TLDR”)

So, I’ll probably be running a bit of an ongoing series here, like my DDO experiment.  Understanding that my rather small (especially after the constant to-quit-or-not-to-quit drama) reader base is made up of WoW players, I’ll definitely confine my LotRO blogging to stuff I think WoW players would be interested in.

No, this won’t be turning into a LotRO blog.  For starters, once I resume raiding with my new guild (of almost all the same people – meet the new guild, same as the old guild) I suspect I’ll be a bit more enthusiastic for WoW that I am right now (though for raid-life balance issues I previously alluded to, I think I’ll be approaching it more casually than has been the case previously).  LotRO still has that new-car smell.  That will, eventually, fade.  But, a glance at what others are doing can shed light on what Blizzard should consider implementing (and I’m sure Blizzard has – the achievement system has a few things in common with the deeds system in LotRO, which preceeded it by quite a bit, though they may both be based on some other game’s system for all I know).

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Missed Opportunity

October 6, 2009 at 6:16 pm (Exile in DDOville, Navel-Gazing)

So, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission, for those of my readers not from the US) has released rules for bloggers, in what I have to think is just about the stupidest thing imaginable.

Apparently I have to disclose if I’m being paid to blog about something.  As anybody who read my summary probably gathered, DDO in no way compensated me for trying out its product.  However, if Turbine wishes for me to revise my opinion, I am in fact for sale – please feel free to drop me a line at feldeeds at gmail dot com with your bid.  Yes I’m a whore warlock of questionable virtue.  Integrity doesn’t pay the bills.

“DDO:  Worth Every Penny You Didn’t Pay For It!”

“DDO:  I Had to Be Paid Very Little To Recommend It!”

“DDO:  The Best Half-a-Game I’ve Ever Tried!”

Blizzard could buy an absolutely stellar review of just about anything it wanted, if it reupped my membership without, y’know, charging me.  $15 a month, Blizz – think about what it would mean to have me singing your praises to my literally dozens of readers (or my three readers who refresh my blog dozens of times!)

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DDO: I’m just not that into you.

September 27, 2009 at 12:25 pm (Exile in DDOville, Navel-Gazing)

Okay, well, after last night, when I decided I preferred to clean my bedroom (well, some of it anyway) to logging onto DDO, I think it may be approaching the time to call the DDO experiment complete.  The portly soprano isn’t singing yet, but she’s definitely clearing her throat.  Since I don’t have to pay for it or anything, I’ll leave it installed and probably pop in every once in a great while.  But so far, it’s definitely not catching on.

For starters, the game has an incredibly weak story, and this is, for me, its fatal flaw.  It’s really a succession of dungeon crawls more than anything else.  Every quest you do is actually its own instance, which is kind of nifty, to be sure, but they start to seem very repetitive after a while.  And so far, at least, there’s very little feeling of an overall story beyond very broad strokes.  On the starter island, you have some sahuagin who are allied with some cultists, and there’s a dragon with them or something.  That’s about as deep as the story gets.  I don’t feel that I want to see what happens next, I just want to get to the treasure chest at the end.  In a sense, this is true to the source material (there’s a reason the company that created D&D was called Tactical Studies Rules).  But RPGs are not just tactical simulations any more.  Well, good ones aren’t, at any rate.

One thing I thought DDO actually does better than WoW (I referenced it previously) is in the area of puzzles and traps.  WoW simply doesn’t have them, and it’s poorer for it.  The problem is, the puzzles in DDO are largely repetitive – flipping around the squares to connect certain nodes to a power source was interesting the first time.  The third time, the novelty’s worn off.  And if you’re not a rogue, traps are just an environmental hazard, not an opportunity to actually do something interesting.

The controls are incredibly clumsy, and even less responsive than LotRO.  Targeting is incredibly irritating (particularly given the tendency to detarget when you’re using the mouse to steer the camera or your character).   You click for each individual attack (there is an autoattack option, but it doesn’t work very well, having a tendency to just shut off, even if the button is still lit up, and frankly, given the lack of special attacks, if you turn on autoattack, it would be completely insufferably boring).    Think “Diablo”, but awkward.

Now, I’m not prepared to call it a day entirely.  The primary thing I haven’t done yet is explore group play, using hirelings, or anything else – I’ve soloed all the dungeons so far.  This is, obviously, a rather gaping hole in my experience.  The source material, after all, is not designed for solo play.  Frankly, I’ve wanted to get better at the game before doing much grouping – nothing worse than being the noob who’s being carried through a dungeon.  But I’m rapidly approaching the point where the options are do some group play to give the game one last shot, or quit entirely.

Also, apparently, grinding instances is how you’re supposed to get the points that allow you to buy new content, or something.  Which would address another issue I have – accrual of whatever those points are that allow you to buy different features is l u d i c   r    o     u       s         l         y                     s           l             o              w.  Pretty sure I’m going to be old and gray before I’m able to buy anything.   Clever from the point of view of luring your players to subscribe.  But that’s not an option for me, so instead, it’s just annoying.

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DDO: On being a newbie

September 21, 2009 at 5:40 pm (Exile in DDOville, Navel-Gazing)

So, my little error in my first couple of posts (re: the character limit) made me think about how, no matter what new classes/races WoW releases, no matter what buffs and nerfs each class gets, what new content is released, or for that matter, no matter how long my little hiatus lasts, when it comes to World of Warcraft, I will never again be a newbie (I will leave aside the question of whether I can be, or am, a noob, as that’s a very different taxonomy, as all will agree).

In some ways, this is a plus.  There are some questions to which I would just as soon not have to spend long stretches of time trying to find an answer – basic questions like character limits, or how to turn off my helmet so I can’t see it (yes, some problems are universal, including ugly-ass helms that don’t mesh with the rest of your outfit).  These are not questions which preserve a sense of mystery, they are questions which interfere with one’s immersion in the game.

On the other hand, even in new content in WoW, I have a pretty good idea how my warlock, for example, will fare against most enemies.  I’m unlikely to be surprised, except in very high end raid content.  In DDO, on the other hand, I find myself approaching adventure instances (I’ll cover that later – if you’re familiar with Guild Wars, then questing seems to largely work that way) with real trepidation.  Not only not knowing what’s around the corner, but seeing that group of three or four enemies and realizing I’m genuinely not sure I can handle them.  My grasp of my class’s mechanics are shaky enough that I’m not entirely sure what my best strategy against a particular mob or party of mobs is.  I find myself asking myself “what if I try this?”

And it’s fun.  When my efforts to solve an underwater puzzle of sorts were running up against an absurdly short breath-timer, I decided on an experiment, and took off my armor.  Surprise surprise – when you’re not wearing heavy armor made of metal, you swim better, and can hold your breath longer.  I felt a sense of accomplishment and discovery.  This is a sort of thing that is hard for a game you’ve been playing for ages to accomplish.

Now, to be sure, WoW is a far better game.  That is already pretty clear ot me – in terms of game stability, graphic/sound quality, certain choices the programmers made (for example, any happiness I may have had about Star Wars: The Old Republic being fully-voiced have gone away, as DDO has made clear exactly how annoying excessive voice acting in a video game can be – bad voice acting, anyway, and the line between good and bad voice acting can be awfully slim).  Nevertheless, even though DDO is, by any reasonable measure (except one, which I’ll discuss in another post), an inferior game, I find myself intrigued by it in a way WoW hasn’t intrigued me since at least WotLK’s launch, or perhaps my first time setting foot in a raid.  And certain things, like my first boat trip to the city of Stormreach (which I just took) are exciting in a way I don’t remember seeing since the gates of Stormwind first came into view on my first character.  That first glimpse of something that is, in scope, vaster than anything I’ve yet seen in-game.

Some, of course, are not fond of the mystery.  I’m clearly not the only person giving DDO a shot right now, and I admit that every time I see somebody named Pwnsnubs asking “Where’s the skeletal mage?” (don’t ask) in General chat, a bit of me dies inside.  You’re only going to be able to discover the skeletal mage once.  Enjoy it, forcryingoutloud.

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DDO: My First Character (sorta)

September 20, 2009 at 1:03 pm (Exile in DDOville)

Okay, so, it’s time to create a character.  Through some trial and error, I’ve decided to have one of my two slots (/cry) be a Paladin.

Read the rest of this entry »

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DDO: The first login

September 20, 2009 at 10:16 am (Exile in DDOville)

Okay, so, after downloading, patching, repairing, etc., I’m ready to play Dungeons & Dragons Online.  Good to go.  I’ll show Blizzard, with its annoying making-me-pay-money-in-exchange-for-services policies.

I’m actually kind of excited.  I used to love D&D, though I haven’t played since around the time 3.5 edition was just coming out.   So it’s been a while.  The nice thing is, for computer gamers, if you’ve played Knights of the Old Republic, or Neverwinter Nights, you have the basic ideas of the mechanics down (i.e. skills, feats, armor class, etc.)

Anyway, I start up the game, and I’m at the rather-familiar-looking character selection screen.

Reinviting the wheel was clearly not a priority

Reinventing the wheel was clearly not a priority

Wait, hold on.  What’s that in the corner?

“Characters:  0 of 2”

Okay, that’s a bit draconian, but presumably, that’s only on this server.  Surely.  Pardon me while I go scurry off to the website to verify that.

Huh.  On a free-to-play account, I get two characters.  Period.  As an altoholic, that’s going to be a problem.  Apparently, I can buy more character slots – ay, there’s the rub.  I gather that, if I play/grind obsessively enough, I can buy (with in-game currency of some sort) anything I could buy with money.  I will be keeping an eye out to see how much grinding is “enough”, but already, I’m looking at the game with a bit of a jaundiced eye.  I’m pretty sure confining me to 2 characters is a violation of a Geneva Convention or something.  I’m one of those complete freaks for whom character creation (the more in-depth, the better, so WoW kind of falls down on this front) is actually fun.  The theme “You get what you pay for” is already making itself felt.  This will not be the last time.

EDITED TO ADD:  Okay, next time, perhaps instead of relying on what I read on the internet, I’ll try it out myself.  It’s two characters per server.  Much better.  At least this way, I’ll get to try out every class.

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