Tuesday 31 May 2011

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.

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