What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.

So the circle of strife continues in the MMO blag-u-spore, subscribers come and go, players burn out and move on, other players return for another look at a game, tempted by emails promising untold game-play treasures and quickly rediscovering all the reasons that they left in the first place. M’colleague is clearly looking for that next MMO fix, busy with his campaigns in Total War (as opposed to all those Partial Wars, where two sides turn up but only one of them had the forethought to bring a flag), he seems to be toe-dipping in the seaside waters of washed-up MMOs, before deciding each time that it all looks a bit too choppy and rough to submerse himself in it fully. Champions Online and All Points Bulletin seem to be the next Great Hype Hope that many bloggers, us included, are pinning their hopes on; I have to say though, in the case of the former, having experienced it first-hand, my hopes can no longer be defined as ‘high’ but more ‘moderately elevated a couple of centimetres from the floor’; to say that Cryptic not releasing the game in June was sensible would be like saying that not wetting ones genitals and then sticking them in an electrical mains socket was sensible: that is to say, in all but the most masochistic quarters, these two things would be classed as a mandatory avoidance. APB continues to look gorgeous, but as a pretty face is no reliable indicator of the mind behind it giving intelligent and engaging conversation, a shiny character creator in an MMO is not a reliable indicator as to whether the game will have any substance to it. Choosing Paul Barnett and Suicide Girls to promote a game says to me that Realtime Worlds are appealing to the style over substance crowd, which is where my current reservations about the game stem from; perhaps APB will be the GAP of MMOs, an emphasis on style but with a more than satisfactory level of quality to the product too. However, for the moment I will remain just cautiously optimistic, and as the character Morveer in Abercrombie’s latest epic Best Served Cold says: “Caution first, always”.

Aion is a curious case: I’ve played the beta, I’ve ordered the Collector’s Edition, and yet I’m fairly certain that I won’t be playing it beyond the first month of non-subscription play. As to why? The ‘Go here, kill that, talk to him, here’s some coin now go and talk to the other guy again’ linear quest design is just not terribly interesting to me any more. I can manage it in a game where there are plenty of distractions to break the monotony, but otherwise I have a hard time bringing myself to play such a game these days. However, something about the game world in Aion captured my imagination – it’s so very well realised – and like a good book I appreciate MMOs when they paint a vivid picture of a world in which I would like to exist. Essentially I like to think that with the price of the box I’m buying in to the idea of the world they’ve created, but my lack of subscription will point to the fact that I won’t buy into the grinding Kill Ten Rats method of quest design. Some people would perhaps label this as “WoW Tourism”, I would say that it’s more along the lines of “I am intrigued by your ideas, and utterly resent your derivative game-play model”. The world of Aion is beautiful right from the start, the flora and fauna are delightful, the character design is fluid and refined, and it just feels right — like it should exist. It’s one of the things that I feel Blizzard got right with World of Warcraft, Azeroth exists somewhere out there in the Multiverse, surely it has to, because nothing so well conceived, so coherent and so magical could be spawned by the mind of man. That’s the feeling: when you read a good book, when you find yourself turning each page because you want to see what happens in that world, because for a moment your mind exists in that other dimension of space and time. Tolkien wasn’t the first, but could perhaps be considered the Grand Master of this realising of another world, for without Middle Earth what is the Ring Cycle but a lot of tedious journeying interspersed with a few battles and far too much protracted dreary singing and self-indulgent wearisome poetry?

Thankfully the singing is all but removed in Lord of the Rings Online, only the music remains. The poetry is confined to quest texts and role-playing groups in town centres, where in the latter case one can take it as a warning, like the sign that says ‘Beware of the Dog’ on a garden gate: you can take the risk if you want to trespass upon that ground, but you’re liable to suffer grave wounds. As Lazarus Long said:

“A poet who reads his verse in public may have other nasty habits.”

LotRO does suffer from tedious journeying, however. Indeed, tedious journeying is one of those malignant neoplasms of the MMO cell structure: where long journeys are an essential part of realising a fantasy world – helping to bring into focus the scope of that world and its size and structure – LotRO’s quests require soul-numbing back-and-forth journeys across vast landscapes and routes that are somehow miraculously unconnected, requiring the player’s constant attention in order to deal with the ever-inert engineering works on the main horse line:

“This is the 7:35 from West Bree, terminating at Trestlebridge. This is a connection only service; please change at Trestlebridge for Esteldin and Othrikar. Due to works on the line, there is no direct service to Tinnudir, please disembark at Esteldin where a small member of the Apodidae family will take you the rest of the way.”

One imagines that the ‘dismount’ option, initially planned to allow players to hop off half way between horse stops in order to provide a modicum of flexibility in their travel arrangements, is now used by players to dismount at the top of a steep mountain or halfway across a bridge, so that they can launch their character off into a deep ravine in protest at the amount of time they’ve spent staring at a poorly modelled horse’s arse. For a game that forces players to spend so much time riding around on horses, you would have thought that Turbine would have made more effort when they crafted the horse models, rather than gluing four stilts to a giant kidney bean and then plopping a strangely-necked horse head on top. One can only hope that they’re going to revamp the horse models for the much rumoured Rohan expansion, otherwise the Charge of the Rohirrim will be a very messy affair, mainly from the main cast of characters throwing up on themselves as they bear witness to the terrifying sight of LotRO’s recreation of the event, as though a thousand My Little Ponies crashed into a patch of Garbage Pail Kids.

Despite my complaints (and you’d know it wasn’t me if I wasn’t complaining), I’m still enjoying LotRO immensely. I’ll hopefully have a post soon which discusses some of the highlights, as well as some more niggling issues, and perhaps also a report on the further adventures of Bjomolf Byrnison the dwarf Champion. All sorts of exciting adventures have been had, friends made, achievements accomplished. I’ll give you a little sneak peek into what has happened recently though, something both momentous and painful. The stout and sturdy little fellow has just spent nearly all of his savings so far in one fell swoop. Guess what, that was the momentous part.

The painful part was that he used the money to buy a giant kidney bean on stilts…

2 thoughts on “What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.

  1. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    Yeah, I’ve noticed LotRO’s travel system is a bit, uh, “special”. The higher level areas are particularly painful, as they require you to grind rep to get the good fast travel paths. That’s mostly just annoying, especially since very little of the old “high level” content is worth grinding anymore. So, I’m expected to do the slow travel option. Blah.

    And, yes, the horse animations are awful. My elf champion bounces all around the automated horses. It’s not so bad on my personal horse, though. But, if the worst we can snark about is the stupid horses, the game has done pretty well overall. :)

  2. Melmoth

    The higher level areas are particularly painful, as they require you to grind rep to get the good fast travel paths.

    Oh dear, that’s most disappointing. Still, as long as one can still get about – albeit in second class, squashed between the overly cake-fed lady and the portly gentleman with the bag of exotic cheeses – I guess one can’t complain; well, not if one is English at least, that’s the law.

    But, if the worst we can snark about is the stupid horses, the game has done pretty well overall.

    Then I should warn you now: I have… A List.

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