Sunday Drivers

Following Wilhelm’s lead, I’ve been dabbling in Need for Speed World a bit.  Like moth to flame, I suspect all middle aged American men are drawn to relive their misspent suburban auto-youth.  Most times the world seems to have a decent population (and quite international by the chat).  It never takes too long to fill up a multiplayer race and the free roaming world part seems to be reasonably well populated so I’ve assumed that the free to play world version of the game is doing ok.

I guess its doing a bit more OK than I thought…

Metering lights are on...

(Of course, I’m assuming its actual load rather than a craven marketing trick but then again, it is EA…)

Middle Earth Bound

With SOE still down… I was a bit at a loss for gaming interest this weekend.  My WoW sub is still current, but running down and regardless I have little interest in poking my head back in.

World of Tanks is a welcome respite but can’t quite scratch that true MMO itch.  In my free time I gave Minecraft a spin (albeit the outdated “free” version).  I can definitely see the appeal and the sandbox aspect definitely kept me occupado for a while, but still it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

So I was looking at my desktop for lonely forelorn icons and I found the neglected LotRO icon.  I definitely LIKE LotRO having played it and watched it since beta.  But sometimes its hard to LOVE LotRO.  However, there is much more right with the game than wrong, and one of my past-misgivings about it was simply the fact that although I like it quite a bit, it was not necessarily subscription-worthy for me.  Its not that the subscription was such a burden that it was an economic hardship, but rather that I simply wasn’t compelled to play it enough in subscription form.

With the transition to free to play, however, LotRO remains always accessible.  The somewhat reduce instance group had been exploring LotRO until Cataclysm released.  Despite the transition to F2P, I think we all were still on a subscription of a kind (Wilhelm being a lifer).  We enjoyed it while we were there, but when we reconvened as a full group in WoW for Cataclysm, we put LotRO on the back burner.  I for one canceled my sub.

So with the downtime of SOE and the interruption of EQ2 (specifically EQ2 Extended), I was feeling the old itch of needing to spend some time in a virtual world.  With the transition to F2P, LotRO was quickly patched and up to the task.

It was a bit jarring to go from VIP(aka subscription) to pure free to play however.  One of my non-group alts had been exploring Evendim (an area added after launch that I had never been to).  I had a number of quests in my log, but found quickly that after turning them in, I was confronted with what I’ll call the Turbine Lemon of Free to Play Dissatisfaction.

I know, this is Nan Amlug, but work with me...

Having been a full paying subscriber, I was quite used to playing wherever and whenever I wanted, so I was a bit surprised (though not totally so) of running into the paywall since I was questing in various areas outside of the basic “starter areas” (e.g., Evendim, North Downs, Nan Amlug, etc.).

Even so, I can’t begrudge the F2P model too much.  At least it let me keep and complete the quests in those zones which I had already acquired.  I was able to turn them in when complete, I just couldn’t pick up the continuation without an upgrade.  Not a significant hurdle since I was just dropping in for a bit.

More frustrating was the denial of taxi transport.  I had assumed, incorrectly apparently, that the game currency requirement would be a sufficient gating mechanism to travel.  Wrong I was.  Apparently fast and not-so-fast travel is restricted on pure F2P accounts.  The only way to go from nearby point A to nearby point B was to pay for a temporary unlock (and still have to pay for the actual travel).  Likewise, the “fast travel” option between major towns was also restricted.  I’m not sure that this is a good model.  IMHO, it seems that if you charge for the access to quest content in new areas, then charging for travel is a bit trivial.  In theory, if I have no access to current content in the North Downs, for example, I’m certainly less likely to be traveling there, so whats the point of the restriction?

Of course, as I finished up some quests in Evendim, I inevitably was forced to travel back to Esteldin and without a better travel option, I had to resort to my Return to Bree skill and then hoof it to the North Downs.  A minor inconvenience, but once there I was able to complete a number of previously undertaken quests and managed to get an entire level.  As a result, I am now Known to the Rangers of Esteldin.

Now one of the Usual Suspects...

All in all not a bad Sunday spent in LotRO.  I still have a vague goal of someday getting to Moria and points beyond, but for now, I’m quite content with the idea that I can drop back into a game that I have a great deal of respect for and continue to get enjoyment out of whenever time permits.  I think that’s the essence of a F2P model done right.

I Like World of Tanks

TL;DR; I thought I’d cut to the chase for those of you who aren’t really interested in the chit chat.  I like the game.

There I was, minding my own business procrastinating at work and I saw the Massively blurb about World of Tanks going open beta.  This is a title I was not exactly following.  First the whole “World of..” thing made me suspect.  Then I assumed that a F2P pseudo-mmo-rts-shooter would have to be rather arcadey.

I dabbled with ThinkTanks quite a while ago (and a friend basically ended up adopting a new lifestyle because of it… but more on that later) and while entertaining, found it too gamey and arcadey.

So, tanks as a computer genre made me suspect.  However, I’m a history buff, a bit of an old school wargamer and on Wilhelm’s recommendation, started reading Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 recently.  So being curious, the WoT beta got me.

I’m pretty impressed.  Make no mistake, this is no MMO as we know it.  There is a progression element which means there is some persistency, but its basically a battleground based game.  But calling it merely a BG based game is giving it short shrift.  Clearly for this is a bit of a labor of love.   The environments– various WWII battle environments– are nicely rendered.  The progression elements, familiar to RTS gamers, involve researching and unlocking various technologies that provide a progression mechanic.  Unlike RTS games, the progression is persistent and the progression occurs as a result of battles rather than during them.

The element that has me hooked is the strategic component.  This is no zerg, die, respawn, zerg, die lather repeat shooter game.  When you are killed in a battle, you stay dead.  You have free camera at that point to see what your teammates are doing, but one death and you’re out.  This has wonderful implications.  First, people get very risk averse and have to start thinking strategically.  This is a good thing.  Second, many elements contribute to a successful endeavor.  This is not simply a slug fest among dinosaurs where “bigger is better and bigger is best“.  While certainly mano-a-mano this may be true, in a strategic environment, rock paper and scissors all have their role.  Of course, the 15 on 15 maps and timer make the one death rule bearable.  I was frustrated for about 15 seconds before I realized, hey this could be very cool.  Lots of opportunities for “emergent gameplay.”

I’ve been recently exploring the role of artillery.  Fragile, reclusive and reliant on others spotter abilities, you are able to rain death from above all across the map.  Great stuff.  And a great way to contribute to a team effort.

What WoT has managed to capture for me is a fun thoughtful focused game with battles that range anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes (there is a timer afterall) that never plays the same twice.  As a free to play offering, I can easily see myself popping in from time to time to continue my endeavors.  With a familiar group or clan and voice chat, this would be a great way to spend an evening.

The game also doesn’t suffer from some of the usual MMO pain– with currently three main factions– U.S, Soviet and German, progression through each tech tree to unlock increasingly powerful or specialized units require just that– progressing through each tree.  A plus and a minus, faction defines your “current progression” but teams on a battlefield map are made up of roughly balanced members from all factions– German Tigers can play with Soviet T-34s and U.S. Shermans on the same team.   What makes it interesting is the interplay between the strengths and weaknesses of each– and with a mix and match random battle paradigm, replayability is very high even with the same maps (currently about 15 or so that vary in size from relatively small urban encounters to larger open field ones).

I’m currently exploring Soviet self-propelled guns.  I can see that I’d also like to ultimately unlock the venerable T-34 which will require my progression down a different branch of the tree.  Likewise, if I want to pursue U.S. or German tank play, I’ll need to work those trees from top to bottom.

Obviously not a game for everyone, but for those of us who enjoyed army men, old school strategy games and RTS games, I think there is something there for us.  I for one will not be afraid to throw some real money their way when the game releases.  In the mean time, I’ll continue to work on my pathetic tanker skills.  Good job  I like.

Trout Master

Behold, the Trout Master.

Damn, I had my eyes closed

For no apparent reason, I’ve become enamoured with Lotro’s fishing.  I’ll leave it to Wil’s theory crafting as to the grander role of fishing in MMO’s.  I’ve dabbled a bit with fishing in EQ2, but only really spent any significant time fishing in WoW.  And even then only really as a means to speed level cooking.

Lotro’s fishing has a few distinguishing features I find interesting.  First, like all things grindy in Lotro (e.g., virtues), there is a daily limit in how much you can increment the skill in question.  Despite your best efforts, one may not level from start to the cap in a day.  Fishing permits an increment of 10 skill points on a 1-200 scale daily.  For anyone interested in exploring Lotro fishing, check out the Angler’s Guide to Fishing in Lotro.

At first that bugged me, then I adjusted.  Smell the roses, etc.  Second, despite the relatively simplistic mechanics (click to cast, click to retrieve, not much else) the actual fishing animations are quite nice with a classic red/white bobber kerplunking into the water and fish under the water’s surface circling the bait and striking.

Of course, most of the catch is vendor trash, although a few (though much less than WoW) are inputs for the Cooking trade skill.  Others, however are trophy fish.  These fish you can turn in to a taxidermist to be mounted on a plaque and then hung on your wall.

Of course, to hang them on a wall requires a wall upon which they may be hung.  Mrs. P and I threw down for standard houses early on if for no other reason that the house vault which is in effect shared storage (both among your own characters and, if you choose, your kinship).  With several alts, a small kinship and relatively high postage costs, this made quite a bit of sense for several of us to purchase houses.  Enaldie (Mrs. P), Silinus (Wilhelm2451) and I purchased adjacent houses in the same neighborhood and freely drop tradeskill materials in each others houses, but I digress.

Likewise, a full discussion of player housing in MMOs is WELL beyond this post, but deserving.  TL, DR, Lotro is fair, but EQ2 (see, e.g., Saylah’s posts) kicks ass.  (P.s., I’ve stopped by your shop in EQ2X Saylah and it is fantastically awesome.  I wish there was a guest book to sign…).

Yes, the fishing trophies are “small wall” items of which there are several “hooks” in the standard house.  The wee ones such as the Magnificent Minnow or Giant Goldfish are amusing in that they should come with a magnifying glass so as to distinguish the mounted fish from a speck of dust on the plaque.  As one progresses, however, the trophy fish do grow in size.  I can easily see populating the walls in a larger house with several trophies.

One can advance in skill by simply fishing wherever you are up to a point.  Thus, fishing literally off my doorstep in the stream in the housing township would result in skill ups early on.  Soon, however, you’ll want to seek more challenging species are located in higher level areas to continue advancement, so I quickly found myself looking for a better fishing hole.

With a house in the Bree Land Homesteads, I was fairly close to the Lone Lands, so I headed out to the Last Bridge (no Beryl in sight).  Apparently there is no fishing from the last bridge, so as a high level 20’s character I gingerly ventured across into the Trollshaws.

Sticking close to the bridge presents little danger and several opportunities for scenic vistas, so I settled into the zen of Lotro fishing in the River Mitheithel.  Not only did my skill ups increase, but I quickly discovered the Trout Master deed.  At first I thought, ho hum, another amusing title (not that I don’t enjoy them).  Then I realized that the attainment of the title also rewarded the Trout Group Trophy as seen above.

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ bout.  Fishing is fun and all, but that is a really nice plaque.  Sure it didnt’ take very long, but stuff like that has a way of setting the hook, so to speak and sucking one in.  No idea whether I’ll ever see the 50-Pound Salmon, but with fun rewards like this, its certainly worth the effort to me.

Queue Queue

Looks like Lord of the Rings Online’s free to play experience is off to a rip roaring start.

And this on what was a low pop server.  Saturday night was certainly just like old times– lagalicious good times in old Bree.  I’m sure things will even out as the first wave of new/old noobs disperses throughout Middle Earth.

Store functionality seems to be decent in my limited experience.  Mrs. P and I took advantage of the bonus pricing for a modest amount of Turbine Points which was painless.  FAR more painless than in the few other F2P games in which I’ve attempted to buy “points”.  Just click confirm and purchase done.  Of course, that is also related to the fact that I already had a Turbine account and payment information for my previous LotRO sub was already in place.

The organization and some of the functionality of the store, however, certainly leaves something to be desired.  Here’s an easy one to bitch about– no “Dressing Room” preview of items.  Fortunately, many folks have compiled screen shots of some items from the F2P beta, so if you Google a bit, you can get a preview, but selling cosmetic items for cash is a hard sell if you can’t actually see it until you purchase….

Next, the store tries to be overly helpful by limiting what is displayed by what your current character/class/level can presently purchase/equip.  This is fail.  Maybe I’m missing something, but unlike every other trainer, vendor and auction house interface, in the store you can not see what is over your horizon.  Color me crazy, but I’m much more likely to throw down for some Turbine Points if I can see that at Level X I can purchase the Uber Donkey of Swiftness with 2000% travel speed and auto-bray AOE stun if I can actually see it in the damned store before I’m able to use it…  I like knowing what’s ahead so I can plan and play accordingly.

Hopefully, someone will realize that a “useable” checkbox filter and/or a confirmation dialog box when you purchase something you can’t use for your class/level would probably go a long way to encouraging sales…

Still, heartily encouraged by the influx of folks to ME at this point.