Thursday, 15 November 2012

LOTRO: Lore-master of many colours

I may have moaned a bit about my kinship's raid activity of the past weeks (although I always try to see things positively), but things have changed for the better. There is currently no official end-game content in Lord of the Rings Online, and everyone is still questing and leveling their characters to level 85. However, I believe it is a good thing to keep doing fairly challenging raid content to keep in shape, especially if there are achievements that you have not completed yet. The only thing that comes close are the T2 Challenges of the Tower of Orthanc raid (intended for level 75, the current cap is 85).

Last Thursday, we had eight signups or our Fire & Frost T2 Challenge attempt, which we had been trying for weeks. We had the tactics settled, the only thing that was stopping us had been stupid misses of the tanks force taunts. I don't want to think about how many times we've reset this particular boss fight the last month. Either way, this particular night we persuaded some friends to come and help us out, and... we did it!

Of course it was a lot easier, because we were over leveled. Even though player DPS hasn't raised that much at all in 10 levels, it was a huge difference, because we didn't miss any skills on the bosses anymore. (That miss chance mechanic really creates a ridiculous randomness, I wish they would remove it from the game.) Also, the force taunts of our tanks didn't miss anymore, which brought an end to our burglars ending up tanking the boss and having to reset the fight.

The defeat of Fire & Frost Challenge brought a burst of enthusiasm to the kinship, and all of a sudden we had overflowing raid groups again. And if you're a bit informed and you know what's on the pictures, you already know what comes next. The next raid was on Sunday, and we managed Shadow T2 Challenge after just a few tries. On Tuesday we beat Saruman T2 Challenge. And then we had completed all challenge modes.

Although I'm still a bit disappointed by not having done all challenges on level, the amazing Steed of Many Colours made up for a lot. I did have to do the Foundry T1 for it after all the raid heroism, but it was worth it: this elder brother of the Prized Isengard War-steed wears a drapery that shifts colour! From blue to green, to yellow, to rose, all soft colours. Do put your graphics above medium, though, otherwise it will just show up white.

 Lore-master of many colours 

This is what Ravanel will look like the coming weeks!

You receive the steed by completing all Tower of Orthanc deeds, including the 3- and 6-mans (on both tiers) and the ToO T2 Challenges.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Skyrim: A mage's retirement

Here I am, disguising myself as a creepy witch (posing with dead bodies of which you nicked the hat is okay if you're supposed to be a creepy witch). I look scary as hell. What I don't know yet is that the fun after the masquerade isn't going to last very long.

I had been zapping around very happily, falling in love with the amazingly strong lightning skill that jumps from target to target. If stuff would really get too hard, I'd place ice runes and sneak around while the enemies would look for me and step in them. I also played around a bit with fire walls and let them walk through that. I'm not sure how stupid you have to be to allow yourself to be kited through a wall of fire, but it worked.

I socialized with fellow mages of the guild and ended up being their guild master. After a lot of magic adventures, I bought a plot in Riften and settled down. No more adventures for me. Just quiet work in my own lovely vegetable garden (it came with me very own grain shovel!) and endless conversations with Lydia at the kitchen table ("I will follow you to the very end, my thane.").

If only it had been like this.

In (virtual) reality, Ravanel was happy with her house, but didn't have any plans of settling down. She dumped all her stuff in it and went on to the next adventure: the main quest that runs through the whole game. Only, there was no next adventure. During my time at the mage's guild, the NPCs leading it had miraculously disappeared. They were not at Riften. They were not in Riverwood. They were not at the Foresworn place in the west where I had to go. In fact, each time I neared the Forsworn place (it didn't matter from which side), my game instantly crashed.

After a long search on the internet, I found I had encountered a known bug with the main story. There was no way to fix it. The only option was to load an older save game and play everything over. Even that was no option for Ravanel: I did not have any save game from before the bug. I could still do whatever I want in game, apart from continuing the main quest. Sadly enough, continuing the main quest was the only thing I had planned for Ravanel after having completed everything at the mage's guild.

I know it's just a game, and I know that I still have huntress Ravereth to play (although she is nowhere near as far with the main quest), but I'm feeling pretty sad right now. So far I've encountered some bugs, but I was always able to find a workaround. I think it's pretty bad that they release a game with such major bugs in the first place, and it's even worse that they don't try to fix it or offer any solutions. I will probably play a bit with Ravereth in the future, but don't feel very motivated right now by not being able to play my favourite character.

Above: endless conversations with Lydia ("I will follow you to the very end, my thane!"). Sigh.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

LOTRO: A tourist guide to the Wold

It's time for my (long overdue) second part of the Rohan landscape series, my very own excuse to post all the landscape pictures I've been taking in-game the past weeks. This time, we'll make a virtual travel through the Wold, the uttermost northern region that falls under Rohirric territory.

I was sent to the Wold by my epic quest from the South, but if you don't follow the epic storyline, you will enter the region (and with that, Rohan) from the Great River region to the North. This will be your first view of the region: a transcendence area with the hills and last remnants of the ruins of the Southern Great River, in which you can already see the grass become more yellowish as it is in the plains of Rohan.

Now I already gave it away! Indeed the well-known plains of Rohan start here, with sloping hills and undeep clear waters in the lower parts. Wild horses wander around, sometimes alone, sometimes in large groups.

The Wold features the first Rohirric settlements after Stangard, of which the well-defended Harwick (picture above) is the largest. Since Tolkien didn't describe any villages in this particular area, the game makers had to make up some names of themselves. And just like Tolkien did, they took their inspiration for Rohan from the Saxons. There's no doubt that they were inspired by the many wics or wichs of the seventh and eight century that are found throughout northwestern Europe. These towns were all harbour towns that played a role in international trade. In fact, they were the only city-like places there were in these times. In England we find places like Lundenwic (London), Eoforwic (York) and Ipswich.

Picture above: stand on the hill north of town to get this typical Harwick picture.

Even though Harwick isn't a harbour town (the water on the picture above is very shallow), its name reveals that our developers tried to keep with the lore and took their inspiration for this region from the Saxons, as we know Tolkien himself did.

War may bring people together, but it may also drive them apart. The village of Langwold experienced the latter. While their houses were burnt to the ground by invading brigands, the leader of the nearby Harwick doesn't want to provide shelter. It is the first example of the troubles in this threatened country.

Lewis Maskell of Stnylan's Musings eloquently describes the atmosphere among the people of the Wold in his article Unwelcome at Harwick. Syp from Biobreak takes a more mundane approach to the behaviour of the thane of Harwick in If LOTRO would let you be evil, the world would be a much better place.

For the nature lovers among us, the Wold features many wild animals, of which many quite unfriendly. I cleared quite a few of them to get the romantic picture above. The shallow waters are inhabited by salamanders, the northern fields by large wild cows. There are no wild bears in this region. My pet bear (picture on top of the article) looked very carefully.

When exploring the plains of the Wold, it is advised to travel by war-steed. Brigands and roving warbands roam the fields, and a quick escape can be of vital importance. For the ecologists interested in boars: they are found just south of Harwick.

More in a Tourist guide to Rohan

Monday, 5 November 2012

SWTOR: On customer service and Opses

Since my last report on not being able to subscribe to SWTOR, we managed to get it working after all and I have been raiding with my guild again a bit, hurray!

Customer service

After not getting any answers on e-mails for about two weeks, the trick seemed to be to call the customer service directly. I was actually surprised how easy this was. We could call for free using Google (also possible through Skype) and the issue was resolved within half an hour. We only had to wait for a few minutes, got directed to another person once and both our accounts were fixed within a matter of minutes. Next time something happens, we won't bother with the e-mail and call right away.

Healing in Explosive Conflict

In between the studying and exploring Rohan in LotRO, I've had the chance to raid several times with my guild in SWTOR the past weeks. The only thing we did in that game, was actually running Opses (err, 1 Ops, 2 Opses?). We once did the first three bosses of the new raid, Terror from Beyond (picture above), and that was really cool, but most times we've been doing EC Hardmode. The most fun were the second bosses (the giant turrets), when I was explained how to run around on the floor, removing bad effects on myself now and then, healing left and right while avoiding scary places on the floor. The other healer had been trying the same for the past week, and was totally fed up with trying. We wiped a few times, but I was so happy (and a little bit proud) that we pulled it off afterwards! I've now healed both left and right turret (which is actually different for a healer) - the left one was definitely the most challenging, but both sides are fun.

There are quite some people who play healers as their main in MMOs. Some even write whole blogs about it. I was just thinking about it, and although my heart lies in support roles, healing is not my main delight in life. In LotRO, I'll play lore-master and captain as mains this expansion. I really much like healing on rune-keeper, but minstrels are much more in demand in raids. Poor Ravalinde will have to live with being leveled as third. In SWTOR, there is no other support role apart from healing (you can either pick "tank", "DPS or  "healer" as role), so my choice was quickly made. I only have one level capped character, and that is my Jedi Sage Ravanel. I think healing there makes up a bit for not being able to heal in groups in LotRO for a while.

I learned something new in today's raid. Sometimes, if you don't retreat after a wipe and people come back to revive you, you might not show up on their monitor: you're simply invisible. This is a very common bug. The solution is to right-click the person who is trying to revive you and select "Follow". Unfortunately, you have to wait longer before accepting an in-combat rez if you've been revived before the fight. If it's a hard fight in which it's likely that people will die, it's better to all retreat and travel that annoyingly long path to the last boss.

So far the healer-talk for today.

The times I was in EC HM, we completed everything apart from the last boss. Tonight we came very close. Tomorrow there's another ops planned, so hopefully I can be in the group again. It would be so cool if we'd make it! And after that hopefully Terror from Beyond. Good times.