I turn my head and go away. I took my share in this fight for the impossible.

I’ve stuck a rich vein of completionism on my main character in Lord of the Rings Online recently, and this past weekend I decided to finish strip mining the Volume 2 epic book content and then consider the prospect of Volume 3. Really it’s all about my deep-seated unreserved love for the Warden class however, because it’s the sheer joy I get from the concept of the lightly armoured, self healing, valkyrie shieldmaiden, coupled with the wonderful gambit combat mechanic, that keeps me returning to the game outside of the once-per-week static group in which I play my Captain; although perhaps a better name would be Capacitor there, since my character is essentially a store of Power and Morale, where most fights consist of dispensing these out to other players in the fellowship while making sure all relevant buffs have been applied. The support role of the Captain is certainly what I prefer to perform in a group, but the execution of the class is just a little larghissimo when compared to the frantic fret fingering required to strike the Warden’s classic power chords. The Warden is the Kinks’ feisty You Really Got Me to the Captain’s more sedate Eine kleine Nachtmusik, and when you’re going solo it’s best to play the angry fast-switching power chords, as my mother would have said had she ever been Jimmy Page.

The Volume 2 content was ultimately frustrating, as I’ve found much of Turbine’s alternative story-within-a-story attempts to be. There may be spoilers ahead. I’ll try to avoid them, but while there’s music and moonlight and love and romance: let’s face it, there’s a spoilery chance.

Once again it came down to the feeling of being a pageboy at royal court, running errands between important people, aristocracy so lazy that they can’t be bothered to walk the ten paces required to speak to the person in question. The person standing right there! You don’t even have to walk over there, just raise your voice ever so slightly, you lazy feckless… If you’ve ever watched Pixar’s Wall•E then you’ll know exactly the feeling that these epic quests give you as a player, you are essentially the eponymous Wall•E in a world full of comically overweight humans who can’t even look beyond the end of their computer screen to talk to the person next to them. Except they haven’t invented the computer screen in Middle Earth yet, so really, what’s their excuse? One character gave me a long and powerful speech regarding their concern for the local guards. So terribly concerned. It really weighed heavily on their mind, they really were awfully frantically worried. Such desperate anxiousness they hadn’t felt in a hundred ye… ALRIGHT. FINE. I’ll go and check up on them for you, shall I? Seeing as you’re so blastedly worried that you can’t be bothered to go and check for yourself when the guards are only just outside the front door of the inn; presumably it’s because you’re… you’re too busy waxing your ears, or whatever in flaming homo-erotica it is that you noble elves do all day long.

And then, every now and again, the tedium of playing messenger would be punctuated with a terrifying mission against nigh-on impossible odds in the heart of hostile territory, like being a paper boy in a quiet remote Welsh village where every now and again the newsagents gives you a route which takes you through Mogadishu. These encounters were plenty of fun, capturing and escorting the orc lord Mazog to Dul Goldur, and then assaulting the fortress to rescue the dwarf Bori, or that idiot twit lovechild of Dr McMadpants and Contessa Gormless von Doolally, as I lovingly refer to him. He’s essentially the cause of all the problems that you spend your time trying to set right, and when I finally came to rescue him he performed one of the most masterfully arse-witted NPC escort manoeuvres I’ve seen, including several near-perfect executions of the Corridor Pause with Incoming Elite Trolls, with only the Russian judge giving him below 10.0 (a still respectable 9.75), feeling that he didn’t get in the full two and a half tucks while blithering about hoping to draw aggro.

I think, for me, the story failed because I spent most of my time standing around having to listen to the un-reason of these halfwit NPCs, while it slowly and gradually dawned on me that I could just stab them all and nothing in Middle Earth would change other than the fact that I would be free. It’s something which is rubbed-in by the ending, which essentially sets everything back to how it was, except a few people have died unnecessarily and wouldn’t have done if I’d just been allowed to cut Bori’s tendons and go hunting for Mazog by myself. Once again Turbine employ the Magic As Plot Protection device, where your band of plucky heroes is rendered utterly helpless by Random Villain B so that he can monologue without the vexing interruptions of you trying to stab him in the face, an occurrence so common now that one wonders just what sort of mismanagement must be going on at Sauron & Sons Ltd. for them not to have cakewalked their way to victory already, given that they can render whole groups of heroes utterly helpless seemingly at will, or at least when it’s most terribly convenient. Perhaps they’re all too busy monologuing to actually get on with finishing the job.

Mixing in skirmishes as part of the book content was a cunning plan, allowing the more memorable infiltration and assault on Dol Guldur to be replayed by players after they’d finished Volume 2, while at the same time allowing Turbine to reuse content which would otherwise be played through only once per character. I’m quite favourable towards the skirmish system as a complement to other forms of play, and since there are nice rewards both practical and cosmetic, I was quite pleased to see my progress through Volume 2 being rewarded with some new skirmish zones to enjoy, especially as one of the pitfalls of the skirmish system is that it can get a little stale playing the same zones over and over. Of course, I took all my hard earned skirmish marks and Cannuilan campaign marks (the latter of which can only be earned through these later Volume 2 skirmishes), and bought my Warden the Winged Circlet I’d been wanting for her since I first saw a preview of the skirmish cosmetic rewards many moons ago.

So Volume 2 for my Warden is now complete, or at least the book content is; there’s an epilogue which I have begun, but there are several quests listed as requiring a fellowship and I’m under the assumption that these haven’t been tweaked to be soloable yet, but I’ll certainly have a look before moving on to Volume 3. I’ve completed the one part of the epilogue which was soloable, however, a final chapter in the story of the Moria dwarves, where they bury that which they claim caused all the troubles in the first place, and so I was surprised to see Bori standing outside the cave as they collapsed it. Personally I would have been delighted to push the whole troublesome group in and seal the cave behind them, but apparently that was a task too trying and terrible for a hero of Middle Earth, and so I was sent on my way to the start of Volume 3, where presumably some bloke needs me, with utmost urgency, to ask the bloke standing next to him whether he wants a chocolate bourbon to go with his cup of tea.

9 thoughts on “I turn my head and go away. I took my share in this fight for the impossible.

  1. mbp

    Last night was the last night of European Lotro before Concertmasters ships us all over to Boston and Turbines own servers. I logged in to see if there was anything on (there wasn’t) so instead I went ahead and finished Volume 2 book 3 with my Champion main.

    Anyway all of the group chapters including the very latest book 3 have “inspired greatness” available if you wanted to solo them so I would be very surprised if all of Volume 2 doesn’t have it by this stage.

  2. Melmoth Post author

    Certainly all of the book content in Volume 2 had ‘inspired greatness’ or solo options, but the epilogue quests looked suspiciously like they didn’t have an inspiration option, but I’ll definitely need to check them out to be sure; it would be silly to not have the buff all the way through Volume 2, as you point out, so it’ll be worth a look.

    I’ll have to wait for a few days now however, so I reckon tonight it’s back to Age of Conan for the last day of its free-for-all.

  3. darkeye

    Some of the epilogue involves a run of a 3-man and the 6-man mirkwood instances. Haven’t done it all but there is nice rewards for what I could do solo.

    I did the books of volume 2 out of sequence so I’d finished book 9 before books 5, 6, 7 and 8, it was only with the solofication that I could finish the whole thing. Even then I thought the whole premise of book 9 was stupid. Then travelling back in time to do earlier books, getting chastised by Celeborn for letting Mazog live after his capture, and in the next chapter which is a flashback being presented with a choice of capturing or killing Mazog only to be shot down by Bori/Bosi/Broin/Brogur (I know their names but never know which is which, I’m always like ‘wasn’t he the one captured by Mazog/the watcher’). I really hated that moment – I come from the future I know what will come of this decision so let me kill the bastard now and be done with it.

    On the plus side Volume 3 is slightly better, I like the story/mystery but the tasks can be still a bit silly – oh yeah like that is going to work out well for everyone concerned.

  4. foolsage

    The vol 2 epilogue isn’t technically part of the epic story as per the devs, so it is not and will not be enhanced by Inspired Greatness (i.e. you can’t solo all of it). There were several long forum threads about that, but essentially the devs said a) the deeds for the books don’t include the epilogue, and b) they didn’t want to remove all the group content so the left in some optional epilogue stuff.

    As for the vol 2 story… yeah, it’s the weakest of the three by far. Honestly the whole prisoner exchange idea was foolish; why would anyone think, even for a little bit, that we could expect honor from Dol Guldur? Celeborn was quite correct – it was stupid. Amarthiel’s story in vol 1 was much better, though my personal favorite is definitely vol 3. The thing is, in order to complete vol 3 bk 1 ch 9, you need to do a skirmish (Rescue in Nurz Gashu) that’s currently bugged and unavailable.

  5. Melmoth Post author

    @darkeye, @foolsage: I’ll be on to Volume 3 as soon as the European LotRO servers are back up, and I expect great things of it. Know that If I’m disappointed now, it’s all your fault.

    I think Volume 2 certainly highlights how developers really have to be careful with putting players in untenable positions within a story, a problem that I imagine Bioware will run into frequently with their incredible focus on character story in TOR.

    Thanks for the heads-up about Rescue in Nurz Ghashu, Foolsage, I’ll not sure how quickly I’ll get there, but at least I’m forewarned.

  6. Rem

    I wonder to what extent being rewarded causes the emotional upset with the talk-to quests. I mean, we all understand they’re a story tool, a way to have NPCs express their thoughts at us and to drive the plot forward. Is it the haughty subtext of “here’s a coin for carrying my invaluable thoughts across the room, boy” that makes the whole deal so annoying? What if we just .. spoke to them and they just .. expressed their thoughts, without it being pressed into the “quest” paradigm? Of course that doesn’t work so well with the concept of a quest chain, since once the “talking” is embedded into one, the NPC again blackmails us into complying, since the chain otherwise doesn’t advance. Complicated.

  7. Melmoth Post author

    Complicated indeed. I must confess I found those and the FedEx quests to be just as annoying without a reward; I think it’s primarily the “And you can’t do this yourself because..?” factor that grates with me, especially as the natural NPC response would seem to tend towards “Well you’ve got nothing better to do, have you?”

    I suppose it’s similar to the sort of situation that can totally break a movie, when you look at a character’s motivation and think “Why the heck would they even consider doing that?!” after which it’s difficult to believe in the character any more.

    The other trouble is that, of course, the developer in this case is essentially putting words into your character’s mouth, which indirectly translates into putting words into your mouth, which many people find difficult to accept. Again, Bioware might have better luck in this case as they at least give the player’s character some choice in the matter, whereas, as others have mentioned, even when Turbine gives you a choice, the siding is always rejoined to the main railroad shortly down the track, as if the choice hadn’t been made.

  8. Roq

    Fingers crossed that transition from EU to US goes OK; Codemaster servers are down now… EU Laurelin [RP] had easily the best community of any server I’ve been on in any game. That’s survived F2P to a large extent and I hope will survive the switchover from Codemasters to Turbine too.

  9. Melmoth Post author

    I originally rolled on Laurelin and still have a couple of characters there, it was indeed a splendid community back then, I’m glad to hear that it still is. Having said that, I’ve found the community on Gilrain to be generally splendid too. I think LotRO just has a strong community in general.

    Here’s hoping for a smooth transition, as you say; I’m quite keen to get back in and crack on with Volume 3.

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