Wednesday, April 25, 2012

LoTRO: Free Stuff

Just a few weeks after I put up a post whining that Lord of the Rings Online was erring on the side of greed with their new lockbox system, Turbine has released a ton of new content that is free to subscribers and lifers (well sort of free to subscribers) and anniversary content is is well and truly free to everyone.  Anyone that has been playing four years gets some cosmetic items.  The tunic I wasn't too crazy about, but the dress and the cloak I like quite.

 Here is a Runekeeper I almost never play showing of her anniversary dress.

Even better, if you have been playing since launch you get a free horse.  In all there are five rewards you can earn, one for each year the game has been live.  Even players that have only been playing a year get reusable fireworks which I enjoyed setting off in the middle of Thorin's Hall.

The five year horse.  I quite like the look of it, and due to the new "horses are skills" system since LoTRO went FtP you can collect horses without jacking up your inventory.

However far and away the best "free" content has been the Great River.  Lifers get it well and truly free.  I know that my lifetime sub payed for itself long before LoTRO went FtP, everything else it gets me now is gravy.  Current subscribers get it as a bonus with their sub fee, it's arguable whether you should call that free content for them or not.  Free players can go to the zone, but they don't get any new quests apart from bounty board missions unless they choose to pay extra.

This is the map of the new zone.  In size it's pretty close to Mirkwood, with perhaps more varied terrain.

I'm have found the quests in the new area to be a lot of fun.  The storyline that goes with them is intriguing, and forshadows some events from the Twin Towers really well.  Color me crazy, but I like all the fetch quests that have you learning how events have been unfolding in the village before you arrived.  I've been obsessing too hard on SWTOR to make a ton of progress, but I have played the new area enough to hit 75 in the last few weeks.  The content I've seen has all been very well done.  I look forward to finishing out the area at some point.  If nothing else, several of the quests grant nice armor upgrades to anyone that isn't a raider.

The first hall of the Rohirrim I've encountered, complete with a minion of Wormtongue who I'm hoping I'll get to slay soon.  

Thursday, April 12, 2012

DAW April 2012: Bioware

Once again Scarybooster is having his annual developer appreciation week (I was reminded by Blue Kae just like last year). This being the MMO "Love In" I can hardly pass it up :-)

After some serious thought, this year my shout out goes to Bioware. Star Wars the Old Republic is the best new MMO, to my personal tastes, since Lord of the Rings Online launched ages ago. Since launch, SWTOR has given me an enormous amount of entertainment. I love the environments, the storylines, and the costume designs. Bioware created a world filled with interesting narratives that is a joy to explore.

I also feel that SWTOR is an important evolutionary advance over the DIKU style MMOs that came before it. For whatever reason Bioware doesn't seem to be getting much credit for that. The fully dialogued branching story-lines are an obvious advance over the narrative presentation of previous MMOs; even the worst curmudgeons generally seem to get that. The fact that roughly 30% of your solo quests are unique to your class is also a huge improvement over most quest based MMOs. Beyond that, there are additional changes to the WoW/ EQ formula that the game seems to get no credit for. I don't want this to be a novel, so I'm going to focus on two examples:

Combat against groups: Combat in SWTOR is balanced around groups of mobs rather than single mobs, and the mobs you encounter vary greatly in their difficulty. A combat with three normal mobs, one or two normals and a silver, or a single gold (all very common encounter combos) require very different approaches. This adds a sense of variety to solo PvE questing that is nearly absent from most MMOs. You absolutely cannot use the same strategy to pull a gold (an elite) that you use to whack down a group of minions.

It's not like WoW or EQ II where there are the occasional weak mobs that are tied at the hip in very specific areas, and other areas (likely most) where you mainly get weak solo mobs on the majority of pulls. In every single solo quest area of SWTOR you will encounter an admixture of strong and weak mobs grouped together in different combinations, and you need to be ready to deal with any of them. Getting to the point where you can easily deal with any group of mobs you'll likely encounter makes you feel like an utter badass. My SWTOR characters feel more powerful than some of my characters in Super Hero MMOs like City of Heroes or Champions Online.

Companions: yes indeedy there are a number of MMOs where you can adventure with NPCs that are nearly as powerful as you. Guild Wars, Everquest, Lord of the Rings Online, and Dungeons and Dragons Online off the top of my head. However, in no other MMO (that I am aware of) do these NPCs feel like real individuals you can interact with. In SWTOR your companions have distinct personalities that you either dig or irritate you. They are fully characterized. If you level your affection with a given companion far enough, they will also open up unique side-quests. There is no system like this that I know of in other MMOs, where who you choose to hang out with really alters the course of your game.

These are just two examples, I didn't even get into the crafting system or the new legacy system. While everyone and their granny seems to be cursing Bioware for not being innovative enough in their latest offering (e.g., "It's WoW with a Star Wars skin!!!"), Bioware actually offered us a new MMO with a number of important evolutionary steps over previous DIKU MMOs.

My belief is that a silent majority of MMO players rarely group. Bioware has enhanced soloing to a level that previous MMO designers haven't even contemplated. On top of that, all the standard group fare you'd expect in a full featured MMO (battlegrounds, raids, group quests, ect.) are still there. You may not care for the innovations Bioware brought to the table, but Bioware has indeed innovated in SWTOR.

Honorable mention: I think I bring them up every year, but yeah Turbine again. I recently got an entire new adventuring area in LoTRO 100% free due to being a lifer. The expansion coming to Dungeons and Dragons Online over the summer also looks fantastic. Other MMOs may come and go, but LoTRO and DDO are the ones I always come back to.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Via Stabbed Up, I discovered that there is Kickstarter project to fund a new Shadowrun PC roleplaying game.

Shadowrun is a setting that mixes high fantasy and cyberpunk, taking place in a dystopian near-future where governments have been made largely irrelevant due to the power held by corporations. It started as a pen-and-paper role-playing game that remains mildly popular to this day. It also spawned several video games. The most recent was basically Team Fortress 2 with a Shadowrun skin. Given that it was a FPS rather than a RPG, I considered it a bit of an insult to the franchise. However, based on professional reviews it's apparently pretty good considered purely as a TF2 clone with an odd theme.

It also gave spawned one of my all time favorite console RPGs. When I was an undergraduate one of my roommates had the Shadowrun game for the Sega Genesis. Despite having elves, it remains one of the best cyberpunk video/ PC games I have ever played (Deus Ex is also on that list). It was an early console sandbox. Much like Morrowind, Fallout III, and other modern RPG sandboxes there was a story you could follow if you cared to. However, the game would also randomly generate missions. You could max out a character just taking random jobs to kill fools or hack corporate databases. The hacking game put you into a 3D cyber-world where you had an avatar that moved around in cyberspace, decrypting nodes as you came to them and fighting security programs (ice). It didn't take long to become so powerful that nothing in the game was remotely challenging, so the sandbox didn't last very long. But for a console game in the early 90s, the freedom you were given was astounding.

I found this cartridge in a used gaming store in 2001. I promptly bought the game and a Genesis just to play it.

All in all, Shadowrun is one of my favorite fictional settings. The Kickstarter Shadowrun project had already reached its goal when I discovered it. However that didn't stop me from donating my $15, giggling like a schoolgirl, roughly ten seconds after I found out about it. I'll get a DRM free copy of the game if and when it ever gets made. The game described sounds awesome, if slightly oldschool: a CRPG with 2D turn based combat and an editor that will let users make new scenarios and distribute them freely. I plan to recreate Hamlet with proud orcs, devious hacker elves, and machine guns ;-)

If the thought of a modern Shadowrun CRPG fills you with the same delight as me, feel free to head over and donate.