Archive for the ‘Lord of the Rings Online’ Category

Regarding Turbine’s revelation that Lord of the Rings Online is going to go free to play this fall, I am late to the party as always – particularly so because I am not yet completely certain of my feelings on the matter. A summary of other bloggers’ thoughts can be found here, with most weighing in as optimistically apprehensive to positive in outlook. My thoughts on the change are that this is a good move for Turbine and MMOs in general; as a fan of free to play titles and a cheerleader for the Guild Wars franchise, this is a no-brainer for me. I do not buy the story that subscriptions are necessary for either server maintenance or continued content updates, so if Turbine (or the Warner hand that is guiding it) feels that a change in business model will bring more people to the title, I think it’s well worth the attempt.

LOTRO was supposedly already free to play for me because I bought a lifetime subscription over two years ago. However, due to that purchase, I have actually paid approximately $46/mo for my playtime, as I discovered too late that the game is not at all to my taste. I would have benefited from this model springing into play a little sooner, but I am determined to find a way to make use of the Turbine points I will be accumulating as a lifetime member, perhaps to buy a Warden and make one last attempt to pass through Middle Earth, if only just to say I’d been there.

Whether or not I am or ever was a fan of Turbine’s games, as champion of the growing free to play family, I must admit that it’s nice to see another game enter the fold. Come on in – the water’s fine!

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I have tried out a number of MMOs, both paid and free to play, and I can’t say I’ve noticed any stark differences between the two styles as far as the fun factor is concerned. I’ve even subscribed to a few games, and/or bought longterm or lifetime subscriptions to others. But I am beginning to feel more strongly as time goes on that no one game can appeal to all of my gaming desires, so it is not reasonable for me to buy into one game and play it to the exclusion of all others. I just don’t want to have to pay subscriptions for all of them, when I play them so sporadically!

Currently I am playing Star Trek Online (year-long sub), Wizard 101 (free until I purchase more content), Aika (as further betas allow), and am trying to get back into Lord of the Rings Online (lifetime sub). Now, if I could continue to play any of the following without paying additional subscription fees, I would gladly pop back into:

  • Warhammer Online: the thought of a free T1 experience was appealing to me until I discovered that only Empire vs. Chaos lands could be accessed. I would be back in a heartbeat if Mythic enabled me to, say, pay by the tier – if I could purchase T1 access and have access to all three lands forever (or even one fee per pairing; I would pay that, too!), with all of my characters. If they would add fees for access to T2 through 4 in the same way, I’d be all over that. They could take from DDO’s model in this way, such that anyone could obviously bypass the Tier For Fee option and just pay a full subscription for access to the whole game.
  • Age of Conan: I loved the Tortage experience, but even so, I’m not that big a fan of repetition and after playing through the 1-20 game with all four archetypes, I feel I’ve exhausted that content. The addition of new content through the Rise of the Godslayer expansion has me really tempted to return and try running through with a member of the Khitai race, and really itching to try out the lands of Khitai for their contrast to the existing continents. But again, it would be really nice if I could buy this content. I would even be willing to pay extra on the price of the expansion if I could “own” access to the lands of Khitai. Heck, charge me $25 over the expansion box price and let me progress only through the lands of Khitai, stopping at level 40, but have access to that area forever.
  • City of Heroes/Villains and Champions Online: My partner and I had a lot of fun with CoX, though, as many others have said, most of our time was spent in character creation and we never really made it past level 12 or so (though I have a level 21 character that I soloed with). Again, it seemed just a bit too much to maintain a subscription for the amount of time we were spending with the game, and feeling compelled to “get our money’s worth” on the subscription tended to make us feel a bit sick of the content early on (I doubt I would have felt the mission structure was as repetitive as I did if I only attempted one mission in a week, instead of trying to get in 4-5 per night). Champions Online was my solo game, and I had enough fun with it that I felt sad when I canceled my subscription after one month, for the aforementioned reason.
  • Vanguard, Saga of Heroes: Now, here is a game that I feel would benefit from enabling permanent free access to the trial island. Between my better half and I, we couldn’t even make it to Adventuring level 10 in the two-week trial period, let alone in the other two spheres. I do have a concern that we game in too short of spurts to really make it far in a game of such sprawling landscapes and dungeons as Vanguard, but I would like to try, and would happily pay a one-time per-area fee for that opportunity.

Someone on the Massively forums said, in response to a player bemoaning the lack of American players’ ability to pay by the hour when playing games the way they do in Asia, that “if you play enough” the subscription fee is a bargain. Yes, it certainly is – if you play enough. Right now the only option with subscription games is to either play “enough,” overpay for sporadic gaming schedules, or not to play at all.

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I have given serious thought to returning to Lord of the Rings Online since the newest addition of Book III, which will enable solo players to take on epic quests that formerly required groups to complete. Since I have a level 30-something Minstrel parked somewhere in Book 2, and a level 22 Hunter parked at Book 1, I thought I would give it a try and see if I can get that sense of story progression back. The story is the reason I wanted to play LOTRO in the first place, and I’ve always found it discouraging that I cannot progress at the pace of my choosing.

LOTRO hasn’t made it easy on me so far: the first time I tried to log in, my driver blue-screened my system, spooking me for a couple of days (there has since been a warning posted about an issue with new Nvidia drivers).

The second time I logged in, I discovered that the level 20 mount I blew all my silver on when I last played is no longer in my possession. I no longer have a mount skill in my Mounts tab. Upon asking the Advice channel, several other returning players noted that the same thing had happened to them. Okay, bug report submitted, no real skin off my nose (just 200 silver).

Then I lost connection with the login server (while my better half plays Warcraft III, so our internet stability is just fine).

Okay then! Perhaps I’ll try this returning to the game thing next week.

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First of all, I would like to thank everyone’s favorite nuns with rulers, the fine ladies over at No Prisoners, No Mercy, without whose Star Trek Online closed beta key contest my better half and I would not have been able to play over last weekend. Thanks, Fran and Julie!

Our closed beta adventure was not without its minor flaws and glitches. We spent the first two days we had access to the beta simply downloading and patching the 8GB bundle, likely due to the last wave of CB testers flooding the servers for their own piece of the CB pie. There were also a few interludes of downtime that forced us to get up and stretch our legs, eat, interact with each other face to face, etc. but thankfully they were short-lived. We were ready to jump on to the servers as soon as they opened Saturday, and we were there until exhaustion took over on Sunday night. I did take plenty of screenshots while we played, but unfortunately because I used Fraps instead of Print Screen, my UI is everywhere and I won’t be posting those pictures. However, my thoughts and those of my better half can be found below.

The Pretty Pretty Princess Factor (Graphics): This game scores many points with me as far as aesthetics are concerned. It’s difficult to believe this is the same engine that Champions Online runs on, because the character models alone are worlds beyond CO’s in quality. The overall quality and the amount of detail on the models is reminiscent of Age of Conan – though not quite at AOC’s level – and the amount of customization available easily dwarfs it. While STO’s female avatars can’t take their shirts off and lay their chests bare to all who wander by, they can stand around with their hips cocked seductively if you so desire.

Costume customization was suitably understated, given that you’re fighting for the Federation, but the ability to wear the TNG-movie era uniforms or, with an easily applied code, the Wrath of Khan admiral uniforms, was still thrilling. In addition to this, I was able to customize every aspect of my bridge officers’ appearance excepting their race and gender, and in the case of choosing a new requisition I was able to choose that as well. I am normally an altaholic in MMOs, always seeking out different races/looks and ways of combining them, and I see STO scratching that itch for me simply because of the array of options available to me with my bridge officers. How this will play out when I’ve invested months into a main character remains to be seen – I’ve never gotten that far without going alt-crazy before.

Everybody was Kung-Fu Fighting (Combat): Easy to learn, difficult to master? I was wary about ground combat even after watching several Youtube videos that showed gradual improvement over time, but I was pleasantly surprised when I was finally able to experience it myself. Ground combat was chaotic and adrenaline-pumping excitement for my partner and I, punctuated with moments of glee as we exploited exposures and vaporized enemies from time to time. My bridge officers proved competent, keeping us alive, moving about the terrain to flank our opponents, and promptly reviving the fallen. The only thing I would change is to smooth out the camera movement when following my character over the shoulder; the only way to avoid nauseating shaky-cam was either to zoom as far out or as far in as possible. My better half votes for the ability to move into first-person view as well.

Space combat was more slow-paced, but no less exciting. I have much to learn about maneuvering in a 3-D environment and remembering which key is the throttle and which lets me move upward, etc., but I enjoyed learning and making many mis-steps along the way to blowing up the hostiles. In space combat, I found I enjoyed looking for fights precisely because space felt so large that it was possible to avoid them. In other games I’ve played, I often come to dread combat after a time because the hillside/valley/forest/lakebed is frequently crawling with mobs and battles are inevitable without a stealth skill. Here, it was so easy to fly over, under, or around by such a wide margin that I was more often hankering for a good tussle.

The Story’s the Thing (Content): The first (and only) criticism I have of the game content so far is that there is only one initial path of advancement for each character. Having only made it to Lieutenant 6 in the closed beta, I was never short of things to do, and in fact left behind a long list of unfinished mission items. We also took part in one PvP battleground, though we periodically queued for others. However, when I think of going through the same content again during OB, and then again for Headstart, and then having to create yet another character for the retail release (to take advantage of my pre-order bonuses), I grow weary. I’ve already decided to sit out the headstart in order to keep the starter content somewhat fresh in my mind, so I’m concerned about the replayability for people who are even less inclined to repeat content than I am.

That said, we both greatly enjoyed the episode content we got to see. They had the same effect that Guild Wars missions and LOTRO Books had on me of making me want to rush to the next item to see how things turn out. I do not yet know if Cryptic is gating this content by level (like LOTRO or Age of Conan, who would give you story quests you had to level several more times before you were able to complete) or if they approach it more like Guild Wars where you can more or less choose to follow the story to its conclusion without having to deviate to “become stronger” in between episodes. I know which approach I prefer!

Other: In our testing stint, we were unable to check out the Genesis system and do any exploration. We had two non-combat missions that I can recall, which broke up the combat content nicely. While it was nice to have those as alternatives to the combat, we could not determine beforehand whether we would be fighting or doing diplomacy; Cryptic might want to make that more apparent up front so that exploration junkies and diplomats can cherry-pick their adventures. Then again, Star Trek is about exploring the unknown and taking things as they come, is it not? I haven’t yet come to a final verdict on how the combat vs. non-combat content is being handled.

Our Views: Ultimately, my partner and I are both looking forward to the open beta and the final release of STO. We don’t regret our pre-orders and we see STO shaping up as a game in which we will enjoy ourselves for some time to come while we look forward to more improvements and additional content down the line. We both level slowly enough that we don’t expect to run out of content or rub up against the endgame before there is anything to do there.

As a primarily fantasy MMO fan whose favorite game is still Guild Wars, I found many positive similarities to GW in STO, and what was different is intriguing and makes me want to dive in and learn more, instead of being frustrated that the setting has Klingons and Targs instead of centaurs and dragons. I am the casual Trek fan who is familiar enough with all of the series and major players, but who hasn’t seen any of the TOS movies except for Wrath of Khan (I’m more of a Voy/TNG fan). I do like the franchise, but I wouldn’t have thought I’d enjoy entering the Star Trek universe as much as I did this weekend.

My better half is the die-hard Trek fan and RTS gamer who doesn’t generally enjoy MMOs and who is eagerly awaiting his Constitution-class starship. He did express regret at one point that I was unable to join his ship crew and take over a bridge officer’s role, but he also acknowledges that since we tend to duo almost exclusively, a crew player game mechanic would probably cripple us when pitted against the player community at large. He chooses his bridge officers based on how hot they are, yet pores over their skill descriptions (Me: “They have skill descriptions!?”) and revels in planning out crowd control strategies.

I think we loosely cover two small corners of the STO player spectrum, and we give the title a solid two thumbs up.

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