Monday, October 31, 2011

Sights from Isenguard

Minor spoilers abound ahead, be warned!

I'm about halfway through the Rise of Isenguard expansion in Lord of the Rings Online, I just started in the Gap of Rohan over the weekend. Towards the end of the first zone you catch a glimpse of a Dunlander village where preparations for war are busily underway. One thing that's pretty neat about this scene is all those tiny guys you see in the distance are moving around. In order that animating so many dudes doesn't murder your frame rates, the normal models are replaced with lower poly ones that look just fine at this distance. I can't help but wonder if this is some of the same tech we are going to see used for depicting big battles such as Helm's Deep.

I also shot some film of this, but my first attempt at filming with FRAPS didn't turn out so well.

In between the first zone and the second, a book quest has you kidnapped and taken to Isengaurd where you engage in manual labor. In some ways the quest didn't make a lot of sense, for example they don't confiscate any of your gear when you get there:

Silene with her warden soon after arriving in the dungeons of Isenguard.

As you complete tasks, you earn a set of cosmetic prison rags. Once I had enough for a full set, I immediately bought and new cosmetic slot so I could equip them:

Full prisoner's regalia.

The zones where you are engaging in labor are fairly large, and you spend a lot of time running around between locations. However, you can get temporary 50% runspeed buffs by picking fights with gaurds. I'm not sure if that stacked with my normal runspeed buff or not, but I was running fast through most of the area. Despite the mechanical oddities of the quests, the storyline you experience down there is pretty neat. There are also a lot of cool things to see. One of your first stops is a dining hall where you mop up slop:

Reminds me of Harry Potter for some reason...

After that you perform a variety of menial tasks, such as hauling crates of weapons for these guys:

Eventually you make your way into the tower of Orthanc itself, where some fairly nerdastic encounters await if you are into the novels:

Saruman's audience chamber.

The wizard himself.

Orthanc and the grounds of Isenguard before Saruman screwed them up.

Gandalf trapped on the roof of Orthanc.

A bit of oddness is that you actually play as Wormtongue for a while. Soon after that, you free yourself and move on to the Gap of Rohan.

One thing I have mixed feelings about is that the expansion is a total gear reset, which I suppose was inevitable. The gear I spent so much time getting since Moria launched was completely replaced by the time I was 70 or so, including my second age bow. I like how the new armor looks, for once they managed to include a helmet that doesn't look utterly stupid. I also like a lot of the texture work on the new pieces. This is Silene in her quested gear, standing in her house:

I can't remember the last time I had my helmet turned on in LoTRO.

All in all I'm still having a lot of fun with the new expansion. It's looking to last me pretty much up until the launch of SWTOR.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

MMOs are a dying genre!!! ...or maybe not

Using the power of Google Insights, Tobold recently asserted that interest in massively multplayer online roleplaying games is declining. Looking at the most recent google insights results, interest in "mmmorpg" is down almost 40% from the peak in 2009. You get similar results from mmo. This isn't total voodoo, this tool does a very good job of reproducing trends we pretty much all agree are real. For example the peaks and declines in interest in Age of Conan and Warhammer Online. That is about how the populations went, as far as I can recall.

All that said, I found myself wondering whether "mmo" and "mmorpg" are really the best search terms to use. Those are pretty generic after all. What happens if we get a little more specific? Check out "ftp mmo" and "ftp mmorpg". They are both in the middle of historical peaks of interest, at least judged by google searches. Compare to the results for "subscription mmorpg." Pretty clear difference in the trends. That also seems to accurately reflect where the market is going. A lot of commentators have posited that SWTOR is going to be the last really big budget sub based MMO that we will see, and I tend to agree. Even now, the diversity and quality of FtP MMOs is such that being asked to buy a box and agree to a sub plan just to try a game out seems a bit daft. SWToR is more than likely the last game I'll be willing to do that for.

Talking to a friend of mine about this last night while hunting boars in LoTRO (yes, it was boars..of course it was boars), he posited that maybe everyone already knows what an MMO is by now and so fewer people are Googling "mmo" and "mmorpg." Relatively few people need help figuring out what MMOs are, they need help picking out one to try. The results for "best mmo" back him up. The number of searches has been steadily increasing, and is projected to continue to do so for at least the next few years.

A certain subset of bloggers do indeed seem to be losing interest in modern MMOs. However, I've seen no evidence that the overall mmo market is in decline. One game, WoW, losing 20% of their subs (and still being played by millions) does not mean that MMOs are a declining genre. The games I play regularly seem to be chugging along just fine, despite the proclamations of doom that have hounded them since launch. Further, I personally will be astounded if SWTOR isn't a hit, regardless of whether it's innovative enough to satisfy the jaded veterans of the blogosphere. If quest based "theme park" MMOs and cash shops are abhorrent to you, the genre has left you behind. As for me and John Q., we're doing just fine.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

On Isenguard, the new LoTRO expansion

It's fantastic. By far the most fun I've had in the Lord of the Rings Online since the launch of Moria. It expands on Tolkien's narrative in completely logical ways. It also offers vistas that I can absolutely imagine him creating if he had lived long enough to do it.

The home of the falcon clan. One of the few clans of Dunlander's that were never corrupted by Sauroman's promises.

I know that I'm generally a positive Perry (as opposed to a negative Nancy). But I really think Turbine knocked this one out of the park, at least from the perspective of a soloist. What the new end game is like remains to be seen.