The Hybrid Journal - Mersault

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Why I’m back to playing Lotro

When the news broke that Lotro and DDO wouldn’t be operated by Turbine, and in extent, Warner Bros, anymore, I felt a sudden urge to return to Lord of the Rings Online. Mind you, this isn’t really a new thing for me- in fact, from its release to around 2012, Lotro was the MMO I’d return to when another new release wasn’t holding my attention for one reason or another.

1. Standing Stone Games

I know, we should all cower in fear as Daybreak is the new publisher for both Lotro and DDO, but strangely, I’m not. Quite the opposite, to be honest. I’m far more optimistic in regards to Lotro’s future now than I have been in the past couple of years. This isn’t about how bad Turbine/WB were, but because to me, the move into an independent company at least implies that these two titles are profitable right now- and they need to be in the future, to prevent SSG from going where Smed’s company went. In my impression, Lotro and DDO were simply part of what Turbine created, and so they didn’t get too much attention, but now, with them being the focus of the new company and with the need to be profitable, I think the devs and company will do everything in their power to make them work. They might fail, in the end, but I haven’t got the feeling that it’s going to be from a lack of effort- and I couldn’t say the same about Turbine/WB.

This has also been the second move where the new owners respect the lifetime subscription I bought from Codemasters some time in 2009. As a reaction to all that, I ended up with buying 50€ worth of Lotro points during their holiday sale- and when the Mordor expansion comes, I’ll be in the first row of the queue to buy it.

2. Mordor

Speaking of Mordor, we’re going in! This year marks the release of the Mordor expansion for Lord of the Rings Online, and while it hopefully won’t be the end of our journey, it’s a milestone- no, the milestone we’ve all been waiting for, sometimes doubting we’ll ever reach it. I’m nowhere near Mordor, of course, as I haven’t even passed through Moria and return to the game with yet another new character, but still- this is it. The obvious final stage of our journey that still leaves a lot of content to develop. From the possibility to divide Mordor in two or more parts, to the scouring of the Shire, exploring different places and so on.

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3. The Community

Lord of the Rings Online has one of the best MMO communities out there- I think only The Secret World and Final Fantasy XIV can really compare to what the Lotro community shows in regards to friendliness, loyalty and enthusiasm. ESO’s community is also good, but not quite there. I guess there’s something to be said about communities of MMORPGs that are story-heavy, but access to the story is not so convenient. It’s a feature they all share- you have to be patient, capable and willing to read to get the most of each of these games.

4. Vanilla WoW?

I’ve seen Lotro being compared to vanilla World of Warcraft a lot in comment sections related to the news of SSG taking the helm. I don’t know if it is, but Lotro is one of the epitomes of an MMO-journey, where that counts more than the destination. I don’t think this was true in vanilla WoW, but the journey lasted quite a while back then, too. The new skill trees in Lotro are quite similar to the former ones in WoW, too. But- at least for me- Lotro has never been as reliant on instanced dungeons as WoW.

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5. Go-To MMO

For years, Lotro has been my comfort-zone MMO. It’s mostly about the landscapes and pace of the game. It’s incredibly relaxing to play, only the usual cash shop stuff disturbing the immersion into this world. Well that and the character models- although in my opinion they aren’t too bad, it’s the hair styles that get me. And the armor. All these years I’ve returned to Lotro in the same way as many, many people return to WoW for each expansion. Lotro was just there, waiting patiently and welcoming me back when I returned. I think it’s about time to reward the game with some loyalty, myself. Also, it doesn’t matter if it’s now or in ten years, at some point, it will be gone. And I’d regret not going through Moria then.

6. Got to see it

And this marks the main reason- I have to see this game’s portrayal of middle earth, there’s no way around that. Yes, at some point the game gets to me (around the mid-to-end-thirtees, every time!) and I dread the caves of Moria because I can’t really fathom how one could call mines beautiful- with pretty landscapes being one of the main draw of the game, but maybe I’ll get surprised. Lotro is one of the MMORPGs that any fan of the genre should experience, in my opinion- for its world, story and its being one of the best of its generation. Others include The Secret World (story and atmosphere), Elder Scrolls Online (for being one of two successful MMOs released after 2013), FF 14 (the other one, and also because it’s the best WoWlike)

The End…a new beginning

Why, hello there! Still in your feeds? That’s great, thanks for that. There’s a new year to look forward to and an old one to look back at. So let’s do this.

2016

In the latter half of the year, I’ve been in a slump with MMORPGs- far enough that I heard me say that I’m practically done with them to a friend. There were a lot of reasons and even a draft for a post on this blog here looking at them. In the end, it came down to time: MMORPGs are time-intensive things and I was having more fun playing session-oriented games like Rocket League or Overwatch- or slower paced singleplayer games like Planet Coaster, Cities:Skylines or Euro Truck Simulator. All of them share the feature of being able to begin and stop playing whenever I want, with no bad conscience for paying a sub, having to progress timely for an expansion to release and so on. It’s pressure-free gaming I enjoyed, even while I am mildly successful in keeping my MMORPG playing pressure-free.

There were real-life issues, as well. Nothing personal, mind you, until late in the year, but to be honest, I had to struggle with the results in the american election. Now, we’ll see where the US are headed and I’ll keep further discussion and my personal opinion on that aside- it has been an election, after all- but in the grander scheme of things, what happened in the US was a display of what’s going on, politically, on the whole world. More than worrying about the US (which I do), they made me worry about Europe and Germany- elections are coming up in France and Germany this year, and depending on the results, they could do a lot of harm to the european idea. So I’ve kept myself busy learning stuff- why this might be happening, what could be done about it and so on.

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I also got acquainted with the appeal of Twitch streaming- I haven’t streamed yet (planning to, though), but a friend of mine does, so I joined him when he was streaming and found it…interesting. I still don’t fully understand why streaming and watching streams is a thing, but I’m getting there.

Last month it also became apparent that we’re expecting our second child. Now that’s a way to end the year!

Strangely, the news of a second child rekindled my interest in MMORPGs to a degree, as did my personal interpretation of Twitch streaming (I’ll get to that in a minute).

The One

Elder Scrolls Online has been my MMORPG of 2016. I’ve tried many, as usual- Blade and Soul, Black Desert, tried getting back into Rift, WoW, Final Fantasy XIV, Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World, but there’s an anchor in ESO: our small guild that’s not-so-small anymore. We’re 15 people now, growing slowly, but steadily- and recently, a couple of members created a Minecraft-server for us to enjoy.

So, while I didn’t really play MMORPGs very enthusiastically in the latter half of 2016, I’ve kept regular events going in our guild, and my main character hit level 50 and, by now, 70 Champion points simply by attending those- there was a huge push with the Halloween-event, where doing anchors granted huge amounts of experience (I also threw in some experience potions), and now I’m max-level. The last time I touched questing content was when the character was level 38, so there’s a huge amount of content left for me to discover.

Last year’s resolutions

You can find the long post on my old blog. Here’s what I wanted to get out of 2016:

  • Embrace PvP. I haven’t avoided Cyrodiil, but a deep dive seemed unnecessary as neither Camelot Unchained nor Crowfall reached a state where they were playable for me.
  • Keeping a budget….hahahaha. Oh well, that escalated quickly. I guess my “budget” didn’t last more than 5 months.
  • Prioritize MMO gaming- I guess that one went well. I still spent too much money on them, but in the end, I’ve been pretty consistent in playing ESO as my main MMO.
  • More time in good games- well, outside of MMOs, that was. I guess this one was mildly successful, as I did play different games in the second half of 2016.
  • Spend more time with people and grow the guild. Full success. Last year, I stated that I’d like the community to have 10 people, we are at 15 now. I have appointed a co-leader, so I’m not alone in doing stuff anymore and we’ve played ESO together for a year now.
  • Blog more regularly than in 2015. Nope. Went AWOL for quite a while there.

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2017

So here we are, in 2017. Resolutions? The same, basically:

spend less money, waste none

I bought the newest Rift expansion and haven’t set a foot inside yet, probably never will. Fear of missing out, dear reader, is a strong marketing tool. They got me with that stuff you’d get by preordering and logging in. Rift has one feature I really like: their housing system is great and reading this great post from Nouvae about finding inspiration for dimensions makes me wish I could get into Rift.

This year, one trap is already looming: Final Fantasy XIV’s newest expansion, preorder opening in the end of the month. I just know I’ll be considering buying it on day one, knowing full well that I haven’t even touched Heavensward content yet. So here’s a resolution: either I’m not buying anything I can’t play (duh!) or if I do, I’ll see that I get there.

Get a grip on MMO hopping

Hopping around isn’t the issue for me anymore. I’m fine with that now. There are a couple of MMOs I like very much, and I’ll play each of them from time to time. What needs changing, though, is starting fresh every time. So no more character hopping. I’ll start fresh (or already have) once more, but continue playing this new batch of characters.

Grow our guild

The guild is in a good shape, our main game is in a great shape and getting better with each update. Let’s put a number on this – by the end of 2017, I’d like us to be a community consisting of 20-25 players, which would mean almost reaching our goal of 20-30 players.

Creating Content

In 2016, there was one thing I was somewhat unhappy to see: quite a few fellow MMO bloggers called it quits and stopped writing about and/or even playing them. Ironweakness and Murf, to name two. Liore went somewhat silent, as well. My friend, the streamer, doesn’t seem to get blogging, makes fun of our guild using forums to communicate and my guild’s poking fun at me for creating textwalls in forums and guild meetings. I don’t think blogging is dead, but maybe it needs some…freshness. So in 2017, I’d not only like to write more consistently – not necessarily more, but not in bursts of posts and stretches of silence, either, but also try that streaming thing and maybe even video stuff.

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More German

There’s a pendulum- sometimes, I think international servers are better, english clients are more enjoyable and original and the community bigger, and then, the pendulum swings back to a state where I prefer “simple” to “original”. My new batch of characters will be created on german servers, the clients set to german, at least to try them out, and I’ll create german content- if and when I stream, it will be in german. I might even get a german blog going, but we’ll see about that.

Games in 2017

I’m not going to fool myself- I will keep buying games, maybe even MMOs (Crowfall, Revelation Online?), but there are three games I plan to make a dent in this year:

  • Elder Scrolls Online, obviously. Housing is incoming and another big content update (Vvardenfell?) might be coming this year, as well. ESO’s going strong and I’ll join it on its way.
  • Final Fantasy XIV. Another very healthy MMO, and one with meaningful crafting and an auction house, as well. It’s also quite simple in its business model: sub or don’t play. There’s no annoying shop interface, no “updates” coming for the item shop only- it’s just so relaxing to play an MMO that doesn’t have a hand in your wallet at all times.
  • Lord of the Rings Online. Standing Stone Games are independent and Daybreak’s the publisher now. Licensing issues are non-existent, so in my book, this change is all-around positive. Lotro has been my “go-back-to” MMORPG for quite a while (at least from release to 2012) and I love the design of the landscapes.

In addition, a few of the released games I’d like to play in 2017 without pressing the matter:

  • The Secret World
  • Guild Wars 2
  • The Division
  • The Crew

All in all, I feel far from done with the genre and/or writing about it. There’s a bit of a course-correction this year, but I’m actually excited to go ahead with it, especially the multimedia-thing with streaming. After researching and thinking about ways to do it in the last couple of days/weeks, I feel like Twitch streaming and blogging are actually quite similar to each other. I guess that’s a different post, though.

Happy New Year everyone!

New Game Masters

So everybody* was really excited to see what Amazon Game Studios would “unbox” at their unboxing event that happened yesterday. After recruiting several devs from MMO companies like ArenaNet, the chances of AGS creating an MMORPG were high. We couldn’t admit to that, certainly, since by now it should be clear to everyone that MMORPGs created by devs in the western hemisphere are in trouble. New Triple-A releases were not in sight, and those triple-A-games that kinda, sorta were MMOs were carefully avoiding calling their games MMOs.

So here comes Amazon and announces New World, a game set in 17th century, supernatural america. And it’s a Sandbox with emergent gameplay and stuff. Read more

A word on crown crates

First: my own opinion, put shortly: I don’t like lockboxes, I don’t buy them and I wish nobody would. As we know by now, Elder Scrolls Online is going to begin selling what they call “Crown Crates” in their cash shop- turning one of my most liked business models/ingame shops into one of many.

Personally, I feel buy-/free-to-play brought a few niceties to us. However, I’m starting to realize there’s more to it than that and I’m starting to get fed up with cash shops, because they take away from the games we play. I’ll probably go over this discussion at another time, but the reason for this post is that I’d like to share the most recent episode of “Tales of Tamriel“. I was happy to see Isaari joining for this topic, particularly because of points he made before in regards to playing WoW and his will to grind for mounts, pets and hats. I can’t find it anymore, probably because it was a tweet- but I knew him to be very opinionated on mmonetization as he’s written about it a couple of times.

Now, this is a podcast dedicated to Elder Scrolls Online, but the discussion points are valid throughout the genre- it’s very interesting to listen to and if you’d like some insight/differing opinions or agreement on stuff like “it’s just cosmetic”, “but they have to earn money” and so on, I’d suggest watching this. It’s also very from the beginning that these fans of Elder Scrolls Online- themselves content creators in regards to this game for a long while and in all kinds of manners- are really upset about the introduction of lockboxes into their game and would like to talk about that topic from the first second.

The monetization stuff begins around minute 30, have fun.

Travel Log: to the Broken Isles

I won’t spoil anything story-wise for those of you who haven’t been logging into Legion by now, just giving a few quick impressions.

First of all, of course I didn’t make it to 100 with one of my “normal” characters and had to learn how to play a Retribution Paladin- which isn’t my class at all. Shaman, Druid, Priest- I could live with those. But I boosted a Paladin (rightfully) thinking that I wouldn’t play one through the rest of the game, so here I was, playing Lizah the Paladin for the second time, a boosted character in an MMO I haven’t seriously touched in about 10 years.

Thankfully, there aren’t many abilities to learn. I don’t know if I made a mistake, but my main bar isn’t even full- I placed normal fighting abilities there, with buffs/debuffs populating different action bars. Something feels off, though, as Lizah feels a bit low on the damage dealing side for sporting a damage spec.

As I’ve been absent for quite some time, I don’t know when World of Warcraft became so good in storytelling- I didn’t remember it that way and when I returned, the old zones didn’t feel particularly different. But at least on the way up to Legion lands, it’s great, it’s varied and it’s presented in a way that actually made me want to experience the story- that of Legion as well as what came before.

I have a new sword...it's supposed to be important.

I have a new sword…it’s supposed to be important.

It took some time, though- 3 hours to reach Stormheim, the zone I decided to start out with. The scenario bugged out once, so I needed to repeat it. Other than that, I visited my class order halls and became very important for the Paladins of Azeroth (don’t they know I boosted?).

Anyhow, it’s beautiful, it’s new, it’s somewhat fun, albeit a bit confusing for someone returning after a long absence, and I’m not only talking about the story. It’s nice being able to do current content with all the others, it’s a feeling I didn’t have in ages. But somehow, I get the feeling that for all that I’m gaining- actually playing the content of the current expansion, that is- I’m also losing out on something else- namely, the experience that comes with playing characters from 1 to 100, and maybe even content droughts. It might actually be that downtime I’d need to close the gap a bit.

I’ll share a couple of screenshots, hopefully without spoilers.

We’re not in Telara anymore

Huh. I finally went to see the invasions, thinking that I could maybe use them to level another character up, as it was said that doing Rifts Invasions was a good way to do so.

I used my level 12 (Feral) Druid to visit my first one. Invasions are basically Rift’s Rifts. Open grouping, open tagging, stages of completion. I mean, it’s nice to see World of Warcraft stepping into this decade- and I don’t mean that in a bad way; it speaks for the game’s engine that it is so versatile.

I don’t know if it’s a good way to level- I gained one level from one Invasion. I guess at level 12 it doesn’t make a lot of a difference to simply questing or going into a dungeon. Maybe it’ll change later on. If I was level 25 and gained one level by one Invasion, it’d be nice.

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It took a bit of traveling and I hopped on the wrong boat once. The key-takeaway for me is that i don’t like the Druid right now. It feels as if its four specs are actually narrowing the options to play a Druid.

Scaling the content to your level, though? Stroke of genius, but that warrants an own post.

Mom

5 years ago, my mom died. We didn’t get along very well, unfortunately, because, well…i didn’t understand her and she didn’t really understand me. We were very different kinds of people, at least i felt as much. In the end, knowing what i do know now, we’re actually very similar to each others and if there are two things i regret in my life, it’s that we couldn’t really connect when she was still there and now can’t connect anymore because she’s not.

Here’s the thing: my mom was the best person on the planet. Not objectively, not in a general sense and for sure not in day-to-day dealings between her and myself. But she was the best person for me.

My parents divorced when i was five years old- since then, i’ve rarely seen my father. He came by to congratulate me for a couple of birthdays and christmasses, but then, he kind of disappeared. I know that’s probably not only his fault and that my mother probably had a hand in it, but the fact remains: i grew up without a father.

My mom…well, she didn’t take his money. Not for herself, that is. He had to pay aliments for me, but that didn’t amount to much. My mom fought. My entire life, up until the thirties, i knew what it was like to be…well, not poor, we’ve never been really poor, but struggling. Of course, i was the child, so i didn’t do no struggling, except not being able to buy as many toys as i would’ve liked. My mom struggled.

To find a job where she could financially support both of us while keeping enough time to be around me when i returned from kindergarten/primary school. Cleaning jobs at first, later adding being a secretary into the mix. When i was a teenager, she became a full-time secretary. She was unemployed a couple of times and worried beyond measure, i’m sure. I didn’t get to see much of that, though; she tried to be positive around me- she didn’t succeed all of the time, but she tried. Another struggle.

Her greatest achievement that really made her proud was buying me a digital camera for a birthday, i think back in 1999 or 2000, when they weren’t in everyone’s hands here yet. I was the first in my circle of friends who had one and it made my mother incredibly proud- and rightly so- to being able to give this to me. Years later she would still recount that tale as one of her great successes. It’s a symbol of her struggles for and with me, for the fight she fought for me.

With her jobs, we were able to spend the entire summer holidays in Italy when i was aged between 6 and 13. So i’ve been to the same village in Italy for almost a year in my life- i learned the italian language as well as the culture. I got to make friends in Italy who looked forward to meeting us again the next year. I had a great time there and even nowadays, i always try to convince my wife to visit that village again. 6 years ago, i succeeded and in we went.  Imagine the look on our friends’ faces when i, never giving them advanced notice, gave them a phone call telling them i’m close and would want to visit them…after 20 years. Yeah, it has been great.

Fortunately, i was able to show my mom these photos. Fortunately, she was still alive when i visited China for the first time. I kept a blog up, mainly for her, describing my adventures and impressions. We returned. Two weeks later, she died of cancer being only 58 years old.

58 years. Believe me, more often than not, i think about my contribution in this. She had to fight for us, for me, to be able to provide me with something, anything really. I wasn’t a good boy from age 16 on and gave her lots of trouble, i guess up until almost in my thirties, when it got better between us.

While cancer got her in the end, sometimes i think that she also had no fighting power left in her. She gave it all.

Now there is our son, and i would so like him to meet her- i’d so like her to hold him, take care of him, see him walk and grow. I don’t think there’s anything i’d wish more for right now, and it’s one thing i can’t have.

I saw my father shortly after my mother died- he attended the funeral; many attendees found that to be offensive; not me- i thought it to be a nice move, but i told him he couldn’t expect me to contact him right away. After our son was born, i thought it was time- i wanted my son to have family in germany, and my father is all that’s left. So we went and met him.

There’s a picture of him holding our son. It’s a nice photo, but it’s also the reason i found myself unable to stay in contact with him afterwards. Because all i could think of was: “why him? Why does he get to hold his grandson while my mother, the person who literally gave everything for me doesn’t?”. He didn’t do anything wrong. Instead of happiness, this gave me pain. Then we moved, and there is the possibility i’m really hard on my dad; that he wants to see his grandson and i’m denying both of them the joy of being a family.

So where am i going with this? Well, first of all, remember this: there is literally no-one in this world who is as capable and willing to love you, fight for you and give everything they’ve got like your mothers. Sure, fathers do a lot as well, and we’re getting better at it, too, but in my experience (small wonder, eh?), it’s the mothers you can count on.

Then: be nice. Try to be. Stay in contact. I’ve never in my life felt so uprooted as i did when my mom died. I lost my home and have never found it back. There’s no reason for me to be in germany; when it comes to family, we- and especially our son- would be better off in China. Anyway, all these boring christmas-days or thanksgiving or whatever you celebrate in the circle of your loved ones and “endure” them? I’d give everything to experience that again- with our son and my mom.

Maybe i should take my own advice and call my father.

I’m not religious, but at funerals, i tend to say something to the deceased. To my mother i said- and i’ll repeat that now, 5 years after her death:

I’m sorry, mom- and thank you!

Travel Log: 10 starter planets in No man’s sky

Yeah, who would’ve thought- i caved and bought the most recent hype-machine. Haven’t played yet, but took screenshots of 10 starter planets in No Man’s Sky. Enjoy- i’ll be off starting on planet 11.

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Games i’d like to see the end of

That isn’t asking for a close-down, to the contrary, actually.

Part of being a dirty time-casual is that there are way more gaming options out there than could possibly fit in the schedule. This is both in relation to games in general and in terms of MMORPGs. I’ll take a look at the latter here. Even when I was very happy to stay in Elder Scrolls Online for the first half of the year as well as with my choice for the second half, there are quite a few MMORPGs I’d like to see through to the end.

Lord of the Rings Online: If I were able to stick with it, i’d be playing it right now. Lotro is beautiful, especially the landscapes. Turbine did their very best to recreate one of the most iconic fantasy worlds out there- and succeeded, in my opinion. Unfortunately, I think its time comes to an end (not official! just gut-feeling) in the coming year, due to licensing. I’m sure they’d keep the lights on as long as possible- but when they aren’t allowed anymore? Who knows. Could WB save it or simply not care to shut it down? Possible, I don’t know. But we do know the license is up in 2017.

Still, I could play it whenever the mood strikes- and I possibly will at some point, but whenever i think about the need to see this recreation of middle-earth, I remember Moria and a sigh escapes my mouth. Honestly, not even Gandalf wanted to go there. Could Lotro still be a subscription game if they had chosen overland zones for their first expansion?

Maybe i’ll get past that, at one point. I hope so.

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The Secret World: No problems with this game whatsoever, just difficulty to put it into my rotation. Sure, it only has missions as content, but it has one of the most engaging storylines in the genre.

Blade and Soul: There aren’t many MMORPGs that have an eastern setting and flavor of story while being a triple-A product and quite fun to play. Blade and Soul is one of them.

Wildstar: Look, revenue is increasing…but it’s still at $2 million a quarter. That’s really not all that much. I still feel this is undeserved- it is a solid MMORPG maybe released at a time when many were tired of that old formula and Wildstar maybe didn’t do enough to shake it up. I have to confess that here, i wouldn’t be in it for the game, the zones, the story, the atmosphere, but the housing. In Wildstar, housing would be my endgame; unfortunately, I feel it starts too slow despite being introduced at an early level.

Games and content

Here I* am, still thinking about whether or not to preorder No Man’s Sky for its PC release on friday. The game sounds interesting enough, even if I’d say it lends itself better to the couch and tv in the living room than the PC at the desk. I’m fine with everything I’ve read so far and didn’t expect anything else, maybe because I didn’t care much for the hype beforehand. It’s released now and it seems to be a single player game, but I didn’t take a longer look at the game before it was released. Insofar, I’m glad the PS4 version released a couple of days before the PC version; that way, I still have about 48 hours to make up my mind.

The thing is, to me, the game loses value as soon as it is released. Strange as it might sound, I actually do want to name species, planets and stuff. So as soon as others go about doing that, the chances of me being able to call something “Strangebird” or “Legolas” become slimmer every day. And the game would lose some of its attraction for me.

Interesting, though, is to see how much the devs seem to skirt around that multiplayer thing- my guess is that if it was clearly labelled as singleplayer game, Massively wouldn’t have covered it.

Another thing popping up in my head is the lack of content in NMS- yes, i said it! 18 bazillion planets don’t really mean a thing to me if

  • I can’t build a base (apparently an upcoming feature)
  • there is no civilization- and I’m not talking about a strange building here and there, but cities, skyscrapers, sentient species moving on planets (don’t really know if NMS has something like this)
  • I can earn spacebucks, but don’t really have a way to spend them (possibly ship and multitool upgrades)
  • what am I gathering resources for?

I mean, even if it is great for exploring, for sure, it could still feel empty. Ah well, but I’m the guy who plays Civilization games on an Earth map, if possible, because I don’t find randomly generated worlds to be plausible. Maybe I lack fantasy.

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