Tuesday 3 February 2009

Getting back to where you once belonged

With Codemasters offering a “Welcome back to Lord of the Rings Online” week, and a wave of Shire-love[1] sweeping the blag-u-spore, it would seem frankly churlish not to return to see what’s what. As an added benefit, LotRO is perfectly happy with the old X800XL graphics card that I’ve gone back to while waiting for the rather more beefy HD4850 to turn up; after all, that’s what I was using back for my first stint in Middle Earth *cue wibbly-wobbly flashback timey-wimey effects*

Ahhh, May of 2007; did we really wear clothes like that? And those haircuts! Priceless. I remember taking a tram to the game shop around release time, listening to Kadgagoogoo on my Sony Walkman cassette tape player, handing over thruppence ha’penny for the box, then negotiating sedan chair hire for the return journey avoiding the curfew of the occupying Roman forces. And some dinosaurs. I played for a couple of months but got slightly MMOG-ed out with it all, having headed straight to LotRO from a fairly long WoW stint in the Burning Crusade. I must confess nothing really sticks out in the memory from the initial run; I remember it as a nicely polished game, but one of the main things it offered was the wonderfully detailed setting, and not being a Tolkien fanatic it didn’t leap from the screen and physically wrestle me to the floor, applying a hammerlock and screaming “PLAY ME! PLAY ME!”. Perhaps a good thing on balance.

Back in the present day a couple of gigabytes of patching brought the client up to the latest version, and during half time of the Super Bowl I made a speculative attempt to log in just in case the start date was the very stroke of midnight on the quoted February 2nd (it wasn’t, unsurprisingly, but I exercised iron self discipline and didn’t head straight for the forums to declaim against such outrage). As it was, the coming of an Ice Age to parts of the UK in the form of a foot of snow (yes, we know, for some that’s a scorching summer’s day, but it’s the most we’ve seen for twenty years and a golden opportunity to go on television and complain bitterly about lack of gritting, schools being unnecessarily closed (or open, depending) and the general panic that accompanies anything outside the norm of our weather, i.e. a light drizzle) meant trying to get to the office later in the morning would obviously have been foolhardy in the extreme, so I decided to do a bit of “work” from home. And what better way to work than, err, play Lord of the Rings Online?

It’s a strange thing, picking a character back up after a couple of years. The standard MMOG conventions make it easy enough to run around and find the inventory screen and character stats and the like, but I could scarcely remember what any of the abilities of my Captain were for, or where I was questing, or what was going on really. To ease myself back in gently, with plenty of pop-up hint boxes, I decided to roll a new character and go back through the tutorial, and since I was rolling a new character I thought I’d head over to the server where the podcasting ne’erdowells and friends hang out. Some random clicking resulted in a new Loremaster and accompanying chaffinch (the game claims it’s a raven, but I know it’s Alan the Chaffinch really), though unfortunately I didn’t make it up to level 25 that afternoon (reluctantly deciding I ought to at least slide on in to work for a bit didn’t help) so I could only experience the crazy fun of them damagewanging through Book 2 vicariously.

There’s plenty of stuff I either didn’t see before, or that’s been added since; I hardly touched Monster Play first time around (and there were very few high level players to be monstered anyway), housing is new (though I doubt my meagre funds will stretch, especially with banks being so nervous about mortgages these days), there’s even a “Hobbies” tab on the character sheet. Mind you, I popped along to see a “Hobby Master” and he was clearly a fraud as his name wasn’t Simon Quinlank and is thus not the true Duke of All Hobby. Despite all that, I probably won’t be resubscribing at the end of the week (though that’s something of a snap judgement and subject to usual mind-changing). Just like last time, I’m coming to it off the back of several months in another MMOG (WAR in this case), and when I’m done there I’ll probably be looking to totally take a break from MMOGs for a while rather than picking another one up. Speaking of WAR, I haven’t really looked too deeply at all the stuff recently announced there (still sulking there are no trousers for horses on the way), but the Murder Night event is starting on Friday, which is pretty good timing to head into after trying a bit more LotRO…

[1] By which obviously I mean “people liking Lord of the Rings Online, of which the Shire is a part” rather than, say, becoming intimate with large agricultural horses. I’m worrying about the search hits now…

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