Thursday, February 19, 2009

A guide to the better looking headgear of LoTRO

Between the appearance slots and the dye system, it's possible to get some very nice looking outfits together in LoTRO. However, one of the biggest challenges can be finding a hat or helmet that doesn't look dumb. For whatever insane reason, LoTRO has the the overall worst headgear designs I've encountered in an MMO. I thought I'd show off some of the better headgear I've stumbled across, and give hints on how to find it.

Also, please excuse the compression and lighting on some of the shots. This is my first attempt at posting screenshots here, some turned out much better than others. Expect improvements in any future "photo essay" style piece. This post was inspired by the conversation here at Wilhelm's. Ok, on to the gear.

For cloth wearers, my favorite is this guy:

It's a brimmed hat with a feather. Here is a close-up:

Hats that use this model come as rewards from a handful of quests, including a quest in the elf starter instance. However the most reliable way to find them is to check monster drops. It's actually fairly common to find hats that use this model as drops on humanoids.

For heavy wearers, so far this is my personal favorite:
On a close-up you can see it has some nice details:

So far as I know the only way to get this helmet is by searching the bodies of your foes. I found it on a random goblin in the North Downs. It does not appear to be part of any normal armor set, crafted or otherwise.

For a leather wearer, it's hard to go wrong with these mid level crafted helmets, seen here with the outrider's armor set as depicted at Darzil's equipment guide:

Pretty much any tailor can make them. It's the model used for teirs II-IV of crafted leather gear, with only minor changes between tiers. Until you get to the "bunny ears" in teir V the differences in decoration are pretty subtle. While arguably a bit boring, it at least looks functional and won't disrupt your outfit.

The Lossoth helmets, also look very nice if paired with Lossoth gear. You can see the cloth, leather, and heavy variants at Darzil's excellent website. Admittedly they can look odd in non Lossoth outfits.

Another thing to keep in mind is that no headpiece looks good with every outfit. For example, I have a dwarven runekeeper that I conceived of as being a bit of a fop (well, for a dwarf anyhow). The hat that he is using doesn't look good with most outfits. However, dyed correctly I feel that it really brings together his current outfit:

My main character has been using an admixture of dwarven and elven style armor for quite some time now. While I don't normally go for the "bunny ears" helmet, the plain leather helmet above just didn't fit in well with the rest of her intricately detailed gear. In her outfit, the bunny ears seem to fit right in:

Seen here again in a higher rez screenshot and an earlier outfit:
Finally, if all else fails, there is always the ever popular hooded cloak. There are actually some very nice ones to pick from. Even if you don't have founder's bonus gear or the like to pick from, any tailor can very likely make you something much more interesting than the two tone cloaks you get from quests. For example, this is one of the eight or so hooded cloaks my tailor can make:
If you are at least 35, a tailor can hook you up with something you'll probably like well enough to wear until you start finding rare cloaks in high level (48+ for the most part) and epic quests. For that matter, if you don't want a hooded cloak a tailor can make you an interesting cloak that dyes well at almost any level . . .but now I'm starting to ramble. Happy hunting!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Travel Times in MMOs

This post by Aspendawn got me thinking about travel times in MMOs. There is a definite trade-off between world immersion, which realistic (i.e., long) travel times tend to enhance, and excitement. When it takes ages to get someplace, it makes the world feel larger and more "real." However, the downside is that time spent travelling is time spent doing essentially nothing.

MMOs have always had mechanisms to cut down on travel time. Even launch EQ had a "return to home" ability as I recall. Dark Age of Camelot was the first MMO to introduce horse routes, which have now become fairly standard (e.g., flight routes in WoW). Lord of the Rings Online improves over this basic model a bit by making some horse routes instant travel, and by essentially giving every character four different "return to home" abilities. One is the normal bind-point ability that's been around since launch EQ. Each race also has the ability to learn how to return to their racial capital. Three of the racial capitols have instant travel available between them for one silver, making the racial travel abilities very handy. In addition to these, when you buy a home you get the ability to instantly travel to that neighborhood. And finally, when you join a Kinship (i.e., guild) you gain the ability to instantly travel to the neighborhood the KS house is in (if your KS owns one), which is awesome or useless depending on whether your personal house is in the same area. However, when you get right down to it LoTRO is only a modest improvement over WoW or DAoC.

Everquest Online Adventures pioneered a system that I have yet to see used anywhere else. Like most MMOs, before you can use a particular stable route hub you have to run to it and talk to the stable master. However, once a stable route is learned, it becomes instant travel. In this way you can instantly (or in two or three hops) get back to any zone that you have been. Quests sometimes teleport you to distant locations that would be very hard to reach on foot, and then back home. Getting one of these distant stable routes for free is as much of a reward as the XP from the quests.

You might imagine that being able to teleport everywhere would hurt your immersion. However, in my experience it really doesn't. The fact that you have to "earn" stable master hubs by running to them or getting a quest for them helps a lot. In addition, to cross a continent you need to go through three or four hubs, so you still have a sense of scale. And honestly, how much is your immersion really enhanced by doing a given travel route for the tenth or hundredth time? When I play WoW or LoTRO, I usually go afk rather than sit there and stare at my character when I'm travelling. My immersion is exactly zero if I'm AFK making a sandwich. I honestly believe the system in EQOA should be used by more MMOs.

As a bit of an aside, EQOA is an MMO that has a lot of very good ideas buried in a mediocre, grindy game. However, I'll leave it at that because I'm sensing a future blog post on it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

High end crafting in LoTRO is borked

From level 1-50 (the first five tiers of crafting), the crafting in LoTRO is more fun and usefull than it has ever been. Crafting guilds are a brilliant addition.

Unfortunately, as it currently stands, the crafting pretty much falls on it's face in tier 6. As an example, I'm going to focus on tailoring. In tailoring, tier 6 is gear isn't as good as gear from 6 man content for two reasons. One that can't easily be fixed (and I accept) and another that certainly should:

1. High end armor sets tailored to specific classes are available at 60. Tailored armor has always been a hit or miss proposition, as it is "one size fits all" for every class that uses it. For example, Burgs, Wardens, Hunters, and Minsterals can all use leather. There is no way one set of recipes is going to serve all of those classes equally well. For this reason it's inevitable that (for example) a level 60 hunter set is going to be a bit better for a hunter than what a tailor can make. I accept that, and can live with it.

2. The stat allocation on the crafted level 58 armor stinks. The level 50 one shot recipes had logical stat allocation for a generic armor set. Each piece added to two primary stats, and then had a big morale or power bonus. That makes sense, and is about as good as you are going to do with generic recipes. However, the level 58 recipes have for the most part replaced the morale and power bonuses with random ones I can't imagine anyone wanting. For example one piece has large amounts of poison resistance (!?). Even if you can't just cure poison outright (i.e., hunter), poison cures are cheap and available in unlimited quantities from vendors.

When you stack up a set that has points wasted on a lot of funky resistances against a set that is easy to get and tailored to your class, the crafted gear doesn't just seem "not quite as good." The crafted gear starts to look pretty stupid in comparison. So far, it looks as if I will be wearing a crafted cloak at 60, and the rest of my gear will be quest rewards.

It's not just tailors, most of the production proffessions have serious issues in tier 6. For example metalworkers are pretty much reduced to making crafting tools in tier 6, and weaponsmiths have been relegated to offhand-weapon crafters due to the new legendary items.

To readers not familiar with LoTRO, that might not seem like a big deal. However, it is a big deal because it's not the LoTRO I've been playing for nearly two years. One of the best things about LoTRO has always been that you could get gear that is roughly on par doing whatever you like:


-six man party content



You pick!

That freedom is one of the big reasons that I've been happy as a clam in LoTRO since it launched. I am never railroaded into doing one thing. Unlike some games ("cough" WoW "cough"), the designers decided at the outset to support a variety of playstyles in their end game. Unfortunately, the gear from 6 man party content currently makes the gear you can get doing anything else look pretty stupid. That's not what I signed up for.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Is Mark Jacobs the Devil?

Much of the MMO blogosphere has been put off by the recent announcement that WAR is getting two new "free" classes in the next major update. The issue seems to be not so much with the message, but how it was delivered. Mark Jacobs, in typical MJ style, has been tooting his horn pretty hard. He's even bragging that WAR is the first sub based MMO in history to add new classes for free post launch. Regardless of whether MJ is fudging the truth, I find the reaction of some commentators to be a bit silly for several reasons.

1. What happens in closed beta stays in closed beta.
Some that have been following the game for a long time feel that the new classes, Slayer and Choppa, don't count as "new" because they were pulled during the closed beta. That is just silly. Stuff changes during development all the time. If something that had to be abandoned during development gets polished up and added post launch, it's still new post launch content. For example, the Shores of Evindim zone was actually in development pre-LoTRO launch, but no-one got their panties in a wad when Turbine called it free new content. In fact, the lack of the zone left a big hole in the solo options for that level range in launch LoTRO. Yet somehow Turbine is a hero and Mythic is the devil for adding items their game desperately needs post launch.

2. No-one cares if WAR is "really" the first sub based MMO to add new classes post launch for free.
Ok, yeah. CoH has added tons of power sets, and even a few archetypes over the years. EQOA added lycanthrope, were-hunter, and recently vampire subclasses to the game all 100% for free. I'm sure I could think of others. But that's not really the point. John Q. Public neither knows nor cares whether other MMOs have added classes for free. And MJ is reaching out to JQP with these announcements, not grizzled MMO vets. We are such a small portion of the market that we may as well not exist. Sad but true.

3. The real deal.
The lead developer of an MMO is in some ways a politician for their game. The purpose of any major announcement is to build some positive hype for a game in the gaming press. The more overblown the announcement, the more likely that it will get noticed. In the case of MJ's statements, they did just what they were supposed to do.

Is Mark Jacobs being a bit weasily? Sure. But is he a giant screaming hypocrite that puts every other MMO developer to shame? Not by a mile. When it comes to interactions with the community, lead devs are politicians first and foremost. Particularly in sucessful MMOs.

Don't get pissed at a duck every time it quacks.

Edit: for clarity let me reiterate....

PR is not the same thing as journalism (much less scholarship). When MJ opens his mouth and speaks to the public, it is mostly as a PR guy. It seems that some commentators were expecting something different, which I find boggling. Anyone that takes the word of someone speaking for a multi-million dollar MMO at face value is pretty naive.

Should we accept that? Who can say. However, that is a different debate, focused on deeper issues than whether MJ is The Devil. An inane semantic debate over whether the new classes in WAR are "really new" or not and whether WAR is "really the first" PtP MMO to offer free new classes does nothing to advance that discussion.