Sunday, 20 June 2010

PolyMMOgamy: LotRO

Post soundtrack: “Feelin’ Good” by Nina Simone

My ears perked up when I heard about the f2p changes coming for Lord of the Rings Online (hereafter LotRO), and I decided to give it a try in that special way I have.  Namely, I bought a copy and started paying for it.

A busy hobbit, earning her subscription.

I know, I know, I could have picked it up for free if I’d only waited…  But this way I’ll have access to all the content come launch day – and get a stipend of turbine points on top of that, for the subscription paid until f2p launch.  And, I get to play it now.  (To top it all off, I was able to pick up the Mines of Moria collectors edition for only slightly more than purchasing the digital edition, and I loves me my boxes)

What about the game itself?  It’s actually pretty fun (and on the whole, less dependent on outside help while you level than Warhammer was).  There are some differences in mechanics that I’m still getting my head around (such as the tiered levelling system for crafting, and the way you choose a pre-set vocation (essentially a trio of professions) instead of WoW’s à la carte selection, and don’t get me started on the lack of bag space), but on the whole it’s proving familiar enough that the transition has been pretty easy.

For the time-being I’m focussing on my first character, Opalinna, a hobbit hunter (who hit level 30 this evening, incidentally).  As far as professions go she is an Explorer, which means she has access to Forester (harvesting and processing animal hides and logs into leather and planks respectively), Prospecting (mining and smelting) and Tailoring (crafting light and medium armour).

Travelling, old-school.

Hunters in LotRO are primarily ranged damage-dealers, but without the support of pets that we’ve come to know and love in WoW – incidentally, there are two pet classes, the Lore-master (who has a pet bear or raven) and Captain (who has a buff-bot in the form of a herald, like an adult version of the squire you get from the Argent Tournament in WoW), but I haven’t had experience with either one at this stage.  It’s a pretty simple class to play, but very satisfying when you can kill your target before it gets to you.

I’m also still dabbling in both Wizard101 and DDO.  With the expectation that with LotRO to distract me enough that I wouldn’t spend enough time playing Wizard101 to justify a subscription (an accurate forecast, it turns out), I put the money into crowns instead.  At least this way what I pay for, I keep.

I also bought some turbine points for DDO, and have bought my first Adventure Pack for the game, The Sharn Syndicate.  It’s only a short series of dungeons, but entertaining (especially the one where you get conned into taking the fall for a bank robbery).  I’m playing a dual-class Barbarian/Rogue, and the combination of stealth and backstab-with-great-axe is quite… visceral.  It’s handy to be able to hire an npc (usually a cleric, for me) to help out in some tougher instances – I guess my antisocial nature is shining through.

The Shire, home to the hobbits, being quietly pastoral for your enjoyment.

Last but not least, WoW.  I’m barely bothering to log on to do transmutes and post cut gems (and crafted ICC cloth gear) on the AH.  My enthusiasm for the game is at an all-time low, and the Ruby Sanctum isn’t even making a ripple.  I doubt I’ll be picking up another game-time card before the Cataclysm pre-launch event at this rate. 

WoW is in an odd space for me; I tend to solo-play my MMOs (although I’ve joined a guild for LotRO), but I’m finding WoW is something that I get a lot more pleasure out of when I’m in a guild of people I know (and, ideally, like).  But I just don’t have the energy to put into finding a guild that has that just-right vibe to it, possibly because I’ve run out of ‘new’ things to do in the game at the moment, and it’s easier to just fade away (at least until something new is introduced – and a new raid doesn’t count, when I’m not raiding).

I did briefly considering trying to put some cosmetic gear sets together – about the only thing I was able to think of that caught my interest.  (The rogue T7.5 set is actually pretty appealing, especially when teamed up with the Shattered Sun Offensive tabard.  And for priests, you really can’t go past the T5 set from SSC/TK.)  The downside, of course, is that as these only drop from raid content, which means they can’t be solo-farmed.  Well, four items of the T7 can also be purchased with (lots!) of down-ranked emblems of triumph, but it’s all too easy to get sick to death of re-running random heroics.

Sadly, never meant to be...

So where does that leave me?  Pretty much in the same space I’ve been for the last couple of months: playing less and less WoW, and more and more of everything else.  Fortunately there’s no shortage of not-WoW to keep me amused.


Friday, 4 June 2010

MMOing Kid-Style: Wizard101

Post soundtrack: “Cellophane” by Ashley Slater

Well, last week I was not playing WoW because I was playing Dragon Age: Origins.  This week I’m not playing WoW or Dragon Age: Origins because I’m playing kiddy MMO Wizard101.  You know what they say:  “Look! A distraction!”

Nothing quite like winning a pair of wings (albeit limited to 24-hours use) as a boss drop to give a positive impression.

I’d read references to the game on Escapist Scrawl, but something in her last post caught my attention and convinced me to give it a try.  After a day spent installing and cursing and reinstalling and waiting (and more waiting), it was installed.  (Reading the forums, I didn’t really get the impression my experiences were typical of the install process – I guess I was just lucky)

As far as the game itself goes…  Well, let’s just say you don’t play because of the intricate plot and well-defined characters.  Anyway, the game itself looks like a cross between Pokémon and Harry Potter, as designed by Disney.  Where my interest has been caught is in the gameplay mechanics, which brings to mind a simplified version of collectible card game Magic: the Gathering where combat is played out in 3d like a low-fidelity version of the Final Fantasy special attacks.

Combat is handled in a very casual manner, and isn’t instanced – it’s quite possible to see someone in combat in the street, and you can walk onto that section of the street to join in.  If there’s another enemy mob close enough, it will also join the fight, keeping things roughly equal.  Apparently this changes at higher levels, where you may be out-numbered if you attempt to attack mobs solo – I’m still doing introductory content, but signs point to an increasing level of challenge at higher levels.

This creature was summoned by a high-level player I grouped with for one fight.  It looked even more impressive in action.

The starting zones seem fairly well populated during the day – I haven’t been reading the chat much, but there’s far less of the trash-talking you see in WoW (helped to no end by the limited vocabulary that the chat system supports – if a word isn’t recognised in the systems dictionary, it just comes up as “…” in game).

Now, the game is a pay-to-play title, but it’s a lot less offensive (personally speaking) than Allods Online was.  In that game they manipulated the game mechanics to require purchase of in-game items (perfumes) to avoid some fairly awful death penalties.  Wizard101 is more like DDO, in having either a subscription or RMT transaction to unlock locations, and use of the in-game store (and their currency, “Crowns”, not to be confused with gold which is the standard game-world currency) for other purchases.

Unlike DDO, however, there are no free areas after the initial starting zones – you have to pay for all of the areas you wish to access (including the central hubs), either by subscription (with access that ends upon termination of the subscription) or purchase with crowns (giving permanent access for all areas that you buy on that account).

Pig Ninjas!

The only real benefit of a subscription (besides free PvP) is instant access to all areas ingame; outside of that, everything else in the store is purchased with crowns.  This means the usual: gold, elixirs, rare and unusual pets, mounts (both permanent and ‘rentals’ that last for a week), player transformations, limited-duration ‘henchmen’ (good for a single fight, as best I can tell), player equipment, player housing, and ‘booster packs’ of treasure cards (single-use cards for use in combat).  (Some store items can be purchased with gold, not needing crowns, but the prices are usually quite steep.  Most permanent items are crowns-only, however)

There are normally four purchase sizes, ranging from 2500 crowns for US$5, up to 30,000 crowns for US$50.  (At the time of writing there’s a special on, 60,000 crowns for US$60, but the offer should have expired by the time you’re reading this)

And on that note, let’s see how much it costs to unlock the existing areas, using the in-game store.  (This was calculated from the breakdown of areas as listed here on the Wizard101 site)

Area Total Crowns $5/$10 Buy $25 Buy $50 Buy
Wizard City 3000 $6 $5.45 $5
Krokotopia 11895 $23.79 $21.63 $19.83
Grizzleheim 9975 $19.95 $18.14 $16.63
Marleybone 12000 $24 $21.82 $20
Moo Shu 10800 $21.60 $19.64 $18
Dragonspyre 10800 $21.60 $19.64 $18
  Total $ cost: $116.94 $106.32 $97.46

Grand total: 58470 crowns, best price (when not on special) is US$100 to buy 2x 30k bundles.  For that $100 you could also purchase two 6-month subscriptions (or one 12-month subscription and buy 10k crowns on top of that).

(Incidentally if you’re not on a subscription, rated PvP is also for-pay.  It costs 80 crowns ($0.16) per match or 240 crowns ($0.48) for a 24 hour Day Pass.  ‘Practice” PvP is free, however.)

In combat, Kymma Raindreamer and pet dragon Queen Romeo vs a cyclops in Cyclops Lane.  (The cards in the middle of the screen are bigger when you mouse over them)

I purchased 2500 crowns on Weds, and powered through Cyclops Lane, Firecat Alley and Colossus Blvd yesterday and today.  I’m divided about whether to sink so much money into purchasing areas permanently (as I do like the idea of having permanent access to the game content), or to simply subscribe (as my power-leveling play-style usually doesn’t really lend itself to long-term play of a game, and that’s a lot of money).

I’m probably going to take the responsible route, and subscribe for a month and see how it goes – the game is quite fun so far, but after only a few days I’m up to level 15 (the maximum is 50) and the second major area of Krokotopia (having picked up the feeder quests after finishing all the Wizard City quests outside of Sunken City).  But I’ve managed to dig up a little more money to put on my credit card, which I’ll put into buying crowns to purchase the Krokotopia hub and the first couple of areas – hopefully that’ll tide me over until payday next week (although I’ve a second wizard rolled and ready to level up if the need arises).

I’ve also been playing the Wizard101 tie-in game on my ipod touch, WizardBlox.  It’s a nifty (and free!) match-3 title that’s based on one of the mini-games playable within the MMO.  The MMO version suffers from not scaling with screen-size, so you’re left with a small game window in the middle of your screen (not a great look on a big screen with aging eyes).  The app version, however, is very nicely put together and benefits a lot from the touch-screen interface.  And the tie-in aspect comes from being awarded codes after each game which you can redeem in Wizard101 for gold, elixirs, and other useful (albeit randomly chosen) items for your characters.

Incidentally, if you have an ipod touch or iphone and like free games, you might like to keep these three pages bookmarked:

  • TouchArcade has a page that lists new games and games discounted (often free, although sometimes the free games are simply the trial versions).
  • OpenFeint has a free game of the day (quite often good ones).
  • FreeAppADay also features a free game each day, but the quality sometimes varies.

Aside from MMOs, I’m looking forward to the release of Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers on Steam sometime this month.  I’ve been a fan of the card game since not long after it was released, but my interest waned as the game collapsed under the weight of its many, many expansions.  However this looks to be a ‘good parts’ version, which looks to be approachable for a new player (or returning player, such as myself) while still sufficiently deep to retain the challenge of the larger game.

Well, it’s getting late (and cold), so I think it’s time to wrap this up.