LOTRO Skirmishes: Too much fun!

Scrrenshot Lord of the Rings Online, riding through the Lonelands.

The road goes ever on and on… Medieval travel simulator: Only moderately fun. Slaying wave after wave of goblins, on the other hand…

I’ve written on a review of the Lord of the Rings Online game as a whole, but seriously it would be too long even by my standards. The game is 12 years old this spring and has a number of commercially sold expansions as well as a number of smaller, free expansions. The level cap was 50 when the game was new, now it is 120, and most of the game between those takes place in areas that did not even exist when the game was new. So you can read online reviews of the game and then of each of the expansions if you have the patience, I guess.

Due to this layered, growing nature of the game, the learning curve is not steep but very, very long. The expansions don’t only include new geographical areas and monsters of an adequate level to fight, but also new features. The Rohan expansion, for instance, has a lot of horse-related stuff, as you might expect. Some of that can be used in later expansions, but some only within Rohan. Well, I haven’t gotten to Rohan yet, and now I am not sure I ever will.

The game is quite pleasant to play, it has an atmosphere of inherent goodness and heroism that I haven’t felt since City of Heroes. It may seem strange to compare two games from so different genres, but they do share some of that longing for a more heroic world. The player base reflects this to some extent. I get the impression that many of the players are “marriage material” (not for me, obviously, and most of the female characters are played by males anyway) but in the sense of being playful yet serious, patient and unafraid of commitment. Well, you better not be afraid of commitment because this game will take many moons if not years to complete. Pretty sure Frodo got to Mordor faster than I will. If at all.

“The road goes ever on and on” is a famous Tolkien quote, and that is certainly also true for this game. I have jokingly called it a “Medieval travel simulator”. It gets somewhat better at level 20 when you can learn riding for free and buy a horse in-game for in-game silver. Before level 20, or if you are a free-player without subscription, you have to buy the riding skill for a small sum of real money. You can also buy substantially more expensive riding speed upgrades. I probably would, if not for the skirmishes.

SKIRMISHES!

At level 20, you can go to one of the skirmish camps that exist near major centers. Normally at that age you would be in or near Breeland, so I went to the camp just outside the South Gate of Bree town. There I talked to the Skirmish Captain and went through the two tutorial missions.

Skirmishes are repeatable, instanced missions. Instanced means there is only you and your fellowship (team) if any. Nobody else will compete with you or help you. Well, except for one helper, your Soldier.

Soldiers are basically what gamers call “pets”, artificially intelligent companions that assist you in battles. There are several classes of soldiers, but you can only have one at a time. If you are squishy, you can have a soldier that tanks for you, attracting the attention of the enemy and keeping them occupied (within reason) so you can do damage from a distance. If you are a more sturdy type, you can use an archer to help whittle them down faster. The archer is also able to pull some of the opponents off you if you are surrounded. There is also a “sage” (basically a mage, but officially those don’t exist in LOTR) who can deal elemental damage at a distance, fulfilling a similar role as the archer. If you are a pure damage dealer but not very sturdy, perhaps you should get a herbalist who can heal you while you fight. Since they can also heal themselves, they too can pull some of the enemies off you and keep them occupied till you are ready to take them down, just don’t wait too long.

There are already two “pet classes” in the game: The Lore-Master is a squishy user of elemental magic, which again is not called magic but lore because Tolkien only had a handful of wizards and they were not really humans at all, more like angels in disguise. Anyway, the LM can use an animal to assist him in battle. The Captain has a human companion. The companion also has an aura that can slightly heal you, or make you slightly sturdier, or slightly increased your damage. But he will also directly assist you in battle, although he is just a commoner, not as good a fighter as you are.

Well, the good news for my Captain is that you can have both a Solider and your original banner-bearer, so now I go into battle with a team of three, even when soloing! The Soldier (in my case an Archer) is actually fairly competent, to the point of not attacking a certain type of enemy that will have secondary effects when attacked. (Which is more than I could say for myself the first times.)

TOO MUCH FUN!

When I say “too much fun”, I mean it half jokingly, half seriously. Noticed how I called LOTRO a “medieval travel simulator”? That is not really a compliment, not in the long run. The road (or other terrain) tends to not go straight, so you have to steer all the time, either your character or your horse, so you can’t even banter with your online friends (if any) or just look around on the varied landscape as you travel.

In contrast, with Skirmishes you warp straight from wherever you are (not limited to the skirmish camp!) and you are at the start of the skirmish instance. From here on, it does not take long before you fight groups of enemies, either because they are attacking you or because you are attacking them. (There are basically two types of Skirmishes, either defending an area against invaders or take it back from invaders.)  There are only brief pauses between the attacks, often not even that, while if you are attacking you can do so at your own pace (but there will often be counterattacks right afterwards.)

So if you prefer slaying goblins over travelling with your eyes on the road, Skirmishes are suddenly a lot more attractive than the usual quests.

If your character is not too well balanced and you could need a companion to round you out, Skirmishes are also a lot more attractive.

If you want to level up rapidly, Skirmishes are also more attractive.

If you want to rapidly get improved weapons and armor, you can buy those for “marks”, a currency of Skirmishes, and you get a generous helping of marks for each Skirmish. The best gear you can buy for marks exceeds the rewards you get for ordinary quests, at least at the level I am (early twenties).

In addition you can use marks to give yourself or your soldier bonuses that only work inside skirmishes: Attack bonuses, defense bonuses, and healing bonuses. These boosts won’t work in ordinary encounters outside of Skirmishes, so going back to normal quests will feel like being nerfed (made weaker).

Oh, and while the Skirmishes are indeed repeatable, the enemies vary between a number of types, especially the lieutenants (mini-bosses for each cluster of enemies). This and the length of each Skirmish makes in more varied than in Asian games like Kritika Online and Closers, where the missions are shorter and repeat exactly. Oh, and you get rewards for eliminating a certain number of those lieutenants, as well as for defeating X number of various monster types. Some of these “deeds” are rewarded with LOTRO Points, which you otherwise would have to buy for money. You can get these rewards by questing in the relevant zones outside of Skirmishes, but it takes longer and requires more traveling.

In short, Skirmishes are easier, more fun, and more rewarding  than the rest of the game. Well, at least the rest of the game so far. Is that really a good idea when you have made an elaborate, huge game world filled with varied content?

I love repetitive games

So maybe this is just me. Maybe most players get bored after playing the same Skirmish five times, even with somewhat different opponents. I kind of hope so, because there is so much to see in this game, so much content you lose out on if you just level past it. But it is just terribly tempting to do another Skirmish instead of riding along the trade roads looking for metal outcroppings to mine for metalsmithing or branches to bring back for woodworking, or archaeological relics to craft scrolls of lore.  I enjoy the crafting in this game, but not as much as the Skirmishes.

And that’s why I call this feature “too much fun”, because it is hard to pull myself away from it. Well, relatively hard. I am not a hardcore gamer, luckily. It is more like I play these skirmishes instead of the rest of the game, and instead of The Sims 3. It is not like I take days off from work to play, or play till dawn. (Well, in late May that might happen if I’m still around, because then there are like two hours of night, but you know what I mean.)

But in the game, I mean. One does not simply walk into Mordor. One gets distracted by Skirmishes.

God still reads my journal

Screenshot anime

I sure am hung up on myself. You don’t need to tell me…

Not sure how many others are still reading, what with updates being such a rare event (especially in Februaries) but clearly someone up there is watching over me. I mean, how else do you explain that Kritika Online is being closed down after I review it in my previous entry? ^_^

Don’t worry, I have already moved on to Lord of the Rings Online. It is an old MMORPG with lots of contents and lots of features added over the years, and lots of deep lore. But knowing me, it should surprise no one that the feature that interests me the most at the moment is the “skirmishes”, which are… repeatable instances! At the outset there are three of them, and you can tweak them a lot like missions in City of Heroes or even more: You can have different group sizes from 1 to 12 heroes, you can choose from 3 difficulty levels, and you can pick a character level from 20 upward. So you can tailor the difficulty to your liking, especially upward. And you can repeat them over and over till you die. Or the game dies. About that…

I got my first character to the minimum Skirmish level, 20, before bedtime. The next day after work I eagerly fired up my gaming computer, and it started to load LOTRO. And stuck on the first loading screen. I went to their website, it was also down. Eventually I found their Twitter account where they said they had “extended downtime” but would be up next morning. It’s been two days now of the downtime being extended by a few hours every few hours. I feel slightly guilty since, me being such a Very Important Person, obviously this happens for my sake. ^_^

Actually, if it happened for my sake, I would presumably be a Main Character, and that’s a bit too much even for me! What I mean is that I am a  Viewpoint Character: I am in the right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time to see things happen. It is a term from literature, in which the viewpoint character of a scene – or a chapter, or a whole book – is the person who sees and feels and experiences the content of the book. And if written correctly, the personality of the Viewpoint Character filters everything that he or she reports and adds meaning and narrative to it. But the Viewpoint Character is not necessarily the Main Character, let alone the Creator of the story. Still, being a Viewpoint Character is a privilege, as you get to be where things happen, when they happen.

So basically, while it looks to me (as the Viewpoint Character) like a higher power is shutting down the games that take too much of my interest, a more realistic take on it is that I (as the Viewpoint Character but not the Main Character) am being subtly placed by the Author in a position to notice when they get shut down.

Obviously I am not being told “You are the Viewpoint Character for a certain event, so I need you to go there and do this or that.” As far as I perceive things, I do them mostly entirely on my own, or as a reaction to things that happen to me from outside. It is only when I witness some unlikely string of coincidences that I start to suspect that I am placed there as a Viewpoint Character, to make sure it is seen. Coincidences like one game getting shut down and another put on hold after I start writing about them. (Yes, I have been writing on a review of Lord of the Rings Online, I just haven’t uploaded it yet.)

The Author of the world is, in my belief, the “Christian God”. (This is an artifact of the English language, obviously God is not a Christian! Rather it is a shorthand for “God as imagined by Christians”.) This God is believed to take an active interest in what goes on in the created world. So in that perspective, it makes sense to draw connections between my journal and the closing of games. But does this connection exist outside of my head? Does it matter if it does, or only that it seems like it?

There are a lot more important things going on in the world than computer games. I basically write about them to appear more normal than I am, since it is something I have in common with many normal humans. A friend of mine lost her father, her pets, and almost her life in a house fire last month. Computer games shutting down is not likely to be a big thing in her life right now. I am well aware of how tiny, petty and pointless my earthly interests are. But somehow, oddly, I am still able to see connections between my petty little life and events on a larger scale. And that is the joy of being a Viewpoint Character, seeing what would otherwise have passed unnoticed. I get to feel important, even though I am not. Because my role is to observe. ^_^