Monday, May 4, 2009

Doing the things a Hobbit does


So this free week back into Lord of the Rings Online has gotten me thinking.

You ever sit and look at game boxes and the stuff you have bought, MMO’s in particular, and realize how much money you have wasted by giving up on each one and never finishing them? This goes for every type of gamer: the chronic game hopper, the one that buys them with no research and then hates it, the one that joins friends only to have them leave and leave you stuck alone in a guild of about 6 people. I do that a lot. I look at the Age of Conan box, the Lord of the Rings Online box, the Everquest 2 boxes, and some others like Tabula Rasa and wonder what it was like at the end game. Most of these games are identical. Some had nothing to offer, others had a lot to offer. We all know what World of Warcraft has, what Warhammer has, and what Darkfall tries to do. For me though I wanted to play them and experience them.

With this free time in LOTRO, a game which I had played off and on for two years, I decided to just relax and take in the sights and sounds. Without certain negative aspects of my life inflicting “LEVEL-ITIS” on me, I am able to step back and play like a casual noob experiencing it all for the first time. This is my last chance with the Middle Earth game that is for sure. After countless times in Bree, Staddle, that elf place, and the Shire I am about sick to death of the intro quests and the level 1-20 gig. I find it important in this game, and many others, to pick a class and not be influenced by outside thoughts as to the success or the failure of the profession at end game. After all, it had always worked for me in other MMO’s, so why not here?
I think that this reason alone causes a burn out to happen in my games, and makes me loathe them rather than appreciate what they have to offer. Also, the lack of a dedicated group or a bunch of friends playing starts to take its toll after a while. No one likes to solo all the time (well, some odd ones do) and when you are new in a game at low levels in an MMO that has been out a while it can be quiet.

In World of Warcraft, no matter how you preach it, taking this approach does not work. WoW is a frantic game that shoves leveling and end game and items down your throat. It has a certain vibe to it where when you log in you need to be ready to go go go. Some games have other feelings about them when you log in. AoC gives me a feeling of crushing combat, like I log in just to fight and get my hands dirty in a savage world. I will not worry about crafting or any of those things. I will quest and fight. EQ2 and LOTRO had a calming feeling, like when I log in I am logging in to a home away from home. A place where I can have posessions and careers and things I do and make matter. Unfortunately, when you get into a game like that you can get easily bored. After all, living another life where you have to furnish a place to live and do odd jobs to make a living is about as boring as well…real life. These two games have their “fluffy bunny” aspect that is for sure and are developed for people that want a second reality in a game.

So since WoW was so easy for me to give up at last, I looked into a richer experience in LOTRO during the free week that Turbine gave out to celebrate 2 years of Middle Earthiness. LOTRO often gets looked down upon as the MMO dumping ground for people that cannot hack raiding or handle the stress of Word of Warcraft. In short, some of the lamer more inexperienced MMO players shift their attention here due to the slower lifestyle. Others look at LOTRO as a more mature community, which is easy since the servers are a lot more empty than WoW. Of course which game isn’t. I actually like this aspect of the game, since when I ask dumb questions or want to know something in the advice channel I am not spammed by a 100 17 year old boys calling me “gay” or a “douchebag”. So it was that this week I devoted myself to falling back in love with the game that should have been a hit for me so long ago. I was the ultimate Tolkien semi nerd so what happened? Ultimately I found the game boring, ugly and wanting to be something it just wasn’t cut out to be: a serious MMO trying to cater to people that just didn’t get it. You know the types. You can wipe 10 times in an instance that GOOD players in WoW would clear in 1 hour. However these people will just laugh it off and simply smile. What is going on in LOTRO? Are these people dumb? I NEED TO GET THIS DONE MY GOD JUST HEAL RIGHT? CAN’T YOU TANK?

But then I sit back and go: what has World of Warcraft done to me. This is a game. I need to relax. In the long run WHO CARES. So perhaps I am the weird guy looking in from the outside at people who think I am psychotic. Once you put away all  misconceptions and just take your time, and surround yourself with people doing the same, the game just clicks. I don’t need to prove myself anymore, and neither do the ones that joined up for the free week to go in unbiased. I have earned my stripes in that other game and honestly it isn’t all it is cracked up to be. What I wanted was community and some sense of other world realism and what I got was a loot machine and really nasty people. People with drama, emo attitudes, self centered egos, and some people that really sucked at playing. Obviously stepping away from WoW was simple at this point in my MMO life. No one wants to deal with that crap night after night especially for Blizzard’s stale end game content.

At this point in my MMO wanderings I needed housing, things to collect and dare I say it: more expandable options for my character. I also needed people that could type complete sentences and were actually grown up when I spoke to them in tells.

So this week I have leveled my Warden to 14, a minstrel to 14, a captain to 18 and just really relaxed. Tradeskilling along the way and filling out those deeds, I am trying to cover every quest I can and actually pay attention to things around me. It has been a relaxing week I have to admit. While I do look forward to logging in I will be once again sad to leave when July 14th rolls around and I head into a brand new MMO in the form of Champions Online. Lord of the Rings always sits on my shelf and mocks me for not level capping, but then I remember all the not fun things to do in WoW at level 80 and have to wonder if jaded LOTRO players feel the same at their level cap. I think it is the same across all games. If we love a game we level cap, and make alts and keep doing it over and over due to brand loyalty or fanboyism (or fan GIRL ism in the case of some). I however don’t do that. Lets face it, if I get bored with an MMO and find it stupid I move on. What I find even funnier is that instead of going back to the new and shiny MMO (I hear it has orcs and a hammer in the title) I head back to LOTRO because the other game is really just not that good. Plus I am a PVE guy and I probably prefer polish over crap. I guess I am weird like that.

So after one week LOTRO has won me back not because it is better than EQ2, but because I just prefer Tolkien and the world he gave us. I never meshed with EQ2 like some, be it because I was not in a good guild or I just didn’t like the combat I am not sure. While I yearn for Norrath I have to admit to myself that EQ2 just IS NOT EQ1 and will never ever be that way. I don’t like most the classes, despise the ploddingly slow combat, hate the spell effects and do not like the quests. In the back of my mind I just wish Sony had made a true sequel and not thrust us decades into the future and changed what I came to know and grow fond of. I still despise LOTRO’s interface and action bar and the animations are laughable, but since it was free this week I had to give it another shot. While technically it is not as polished as World of Warcraft or as complete in its focus, it does let you do a lot of things at a decent level of quality. While I feel I have outgrown WoW, LOTRO fits just right at this point. Overall I am done with fantasy games, but if I had to go back to one LOTRO or Age of Conan would be it. For flavor and variety the two games offer me a good amount of change and fun.

I am currently duo’ing with a friend and we have two characters that level together only when we are both on, otherwise it is all out on our solo characters. My solo character is a warden, who I want to get to 18 before my free week ends to match my captain. Organizing things after my server move from Meneldor to Firefoot was long and complicated and took me over an hour. I turned my burglar into a mule (what a CRAPPY class. The WoW rogue is still best representation of a rogue type class I have played and that includes the Guild Wars assassin) and had to mail all sorts of crafting materials back and forth to the proper tradeskillers. So now we have this kinship full of about 10 alts and one other buddy who is checking the game out so that we can get the kinship bonuses if we just let it sit around. Last night I got my furryfoot over to the elf starting lands and knocked out 3 deeds, two of them advanced, and walked away with a ton of new traits to slot. I felt like I got something accomplished and I have always said I prefer LOTRO’s grinding over WoW’s dumb faction grinding anyday. I don’t know why, but I like to have things ADDED to my character through grinding rather than do it for gear only. In LOTRO, and EQ2 for the most part, grinding expands your character and adds things to them and just doesn’t reward you with gear you will replace later anyway. I like that aspect and keeps me going.

LOTRO has its issues, and I still look down on it from a perspective of an experienced end game raider, but it has a certain charm and quality about it that compels me to keep trying it out among all the other crappy MMO’s that sit on my shelf collecting dust. Let me just be honest. You will be doing the same thing in LOTRO, EQ2, WoW or Warhammer at end game it just depends on where your friends are. You will still be collecting tier sets, some sort of token or trying to get a title no matter where you do it. IT’S ALL THE SAME. People just like to pick sides and start blog feuds. Right now I just so happen to like spending time in Middle Earth. It is laid back and quiet, and that is what I want right now.

I just wish the fantasy genre would stop, and luckily it is happening slowly but surely. Star Trek, that new Funcom MMO that will probably be a disaster, Star Wars Old Republic, Champions Online…we are starting to see a shift with all this new technology towards games that break the orc/dwarf/elf/anime angel type fantasy stuff that has been shoved in our faces for years. This current break until July 14th has opened my eyes and also gotten me to step away from the computer for a while and that is a good thing. We have a huge string of movies ready to bust out this summer so I plan on getting out and about. I will be at Wolverine Saturday and then see Star Trek on the IMAX the following week. With my comic collection coming along and the warmer climate arriving, I can finally break free from MMO’s and not feel guilty about it because Middle Earth and Millenium City will always be there.