Friday 8 July 2011

Reputation is an idle and most false imposition.

I recently undertook a reputation grind with my Warden in Lord of the Rings Online, another of those grouting duties that I usually avoid on my various characters, only ever achieving maximum status with the various factions in MMOs through the incidental advancement that occurs during the course of levelling a character. Being at the level cap and not being of a raiderly mindset, however, I find myself wanting to overpaint the canvas of my character in other ways. Of the three ‘c’s that advance a character in an MMO –Completion, Customisation and Cultivation– only Cultivation is restricted at the level cap to just two areas of advancement, funnelled as it is into the primary palettes of raiding and PvP. Of course, Completion and Customisation can both be advanced through raiding and PvP, but there are also other shades of game-play in which the two can be mixed.

In terms of LotRO then, Cultivation is advancing the power level of your character through the usual MMO channel of ever-increasing item levels; Completion is all about fully fleshing out the character, achieving all that there is to achieve in the game: collecting all the deeds, reaching maximum reputation rank with all the various factions, exploring all the nooks and crannies the game has to offer; and Customisation is all about making the character you want, be it through cosmetic items, mounts, titles, housing, or character builds. Many areas of Cultivation will also offer ways to advance Completion or Customisation, but it’s very rare that, say, Completion will offer a way to advance Cultivation once you reach the end game. For example, completing the not insignificant achievement of ‘What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been’ in World of Warcraft grants the player a mount, something which may be cosmetically appealing (Customisation), a form of status recognition for your hard work (Completion), but which offers nothing in the way of advancing your character’s innate power level (Cultivation).

It’s fairly apparent as to why this situation exists in these MMOs: the fact that character power level is based primarily on item improvement, items which are made redundant with each expansion of the end-game, means that rewarding a chest piece for ‘What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been’ would be pointless as soon as the next expansion is released. Or would it? Blizzard have already introduced the concept of heirloom items, items which increase in power as your character does, could significant achievements such as ‘What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been’ reward items that increase in power with the character and maintain a power level equivalent to end-game raiding rewards?

Back to the reputation grind, though. The chain of events which led me to grind away for reputation was itself interesting. I’d decided to complete the Virtue traits on my character, getting them all to the current maximum of level ten. To do this I had to perform various deeds, which for the melee-based traits generally involves using sharp pointy bits of metal to convince mobs to shuffle off their mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible. The trait I was working on at the time required me to kill three hundred orcs in Angmar, something which was time consuming but not a challenge since I had long out-levelled the area, so it was a suitable time to listen to a podcast or two while roaming around a camp of orcs and slaughtering them with wild unhindered abandon, the sort of one-sided fight equivalent to dropping a great white shark into a heavily populated hospital swimming therapy pool. Grinding a deed in this way is a bit like weight training for will power: you have a little counter in the top corner of your screen which counts up as you start to kill orcs, but three hundred seems like an impossible task, especially after you spend what seems like an eternity slaughtering away like the Tazmanian Devil in a bathtub of bunnies, only to look up and find that you’ve killed just ten orcs. So you start trying to trick your mind, ‘Right, we only have to do that twenty nine more times and we’re done. Twenty nine isn’t a very big number is it now? So, let’s do another ten. Can you give me another ten reps? Okay, here we go then: one, two, three… feel the burn… four, five, six… keep that sword arm nice and straight… seven, eight, nine annnnnnnd ten. Good! And relax. Shake it out, have a breather, and then we’ll do another ten’.

Such tricks only last so long however, and then you start to go mad: you start to move around as you fight such that the dead orcs make pretty patterns on the ground with their corpses, or spell out rude words that can be seen from the air by low-flying Nazgûl; you try to find interesting weapons in your inventory to kill the orcs with, bludgeoning a captain to death with a haddock, and then stabbing his second in command with a hat pin; then you progress to trying to find various unique ways to initiate combat: standing near the orc camp and talking loudly on a mobile phone, for example, or running around and altering all the heights of their office chairs, or standing uncomfortably close behind on orc and reading its copy of the Nazgûl News over its shoulder. By the end of the session you’re running around naked save for your cape, half an orc skull balanced on your head, and orc eyes pushed on to the end of your toes. Your right hand still holds your sword, but your left hand is now Mr Flapnoodle –formed from a pouch made of a warg ear with orc nipples for eyes– who tells you what to kill next by whispering in your ear; the orcs have learnt to fear the judgement of Mr Flapnoodle, and you obey because he’s hidden your teeth somewhere inside your face and you need them to become Queen of the Monkey Bees.

I don’t normally do reputation grinds, and now you know why.

Having finished killing the three hundred orcs, who weren’t nearly as big a challenge as the three hundred Spartans I’d killed the day before, I sold all the junk I’d collected and found myself with a bag still half full with reputation items. Seeing as they were effectively free from my earlier exertions while attempting to complete the Orc Genocide deed, it seemed silly to thrown them away, so I put my clothes back on, left Mr Flapnoodle in the care of a confused looking dwarf who seemed to be trying not to throw up, and made my way over to Esteldín to hand in the reputation items with the rangers there. The Rangers of Esteldín, an elite band of warriors who remain hidden from the enemy by carefully guarding the location of their secret base, never telling a soul, never letting on, never revealing in any way where they come from. Not even a hint. ‘Hello, we’re the Rangers of Esteldín! Where are we from? We can’t tell you that. Are we from Esteldín? Who told you that?! Gentleman, we have a spy in our midst! We, the Rangers of Esteldín, will not stop until… hang on…’ Anyway, having handed in all the reputation items I’d gathered to the newly named Rangers of SHHHHH IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE A SECRET DAMMIT I found that I had reached the maximum level of reputation with them, and as such I had a look at the rewards on offer. Of course there was nothing in the way of Cultivation, but they did offer a new mount, which obviously appealed to the Customiser in me. It was going to cost me five gold, an amount which my character can comfortably afford but which is nevertheless not an insignificant expense, so I did a little research in order to make sure it didn’t suffer from the Horse Eye of DOOM or any other such mind twisting deformity. Alas, although the horse is without strange features it is also a little plain, and I couldn’t bring myself to justify the expense for another mount that I would probably never use because I already had several handsome specimens. I did, however, notice the Prized Angmar’s Free People’s Steed while I did my research, which is possibly the best looking mount I’ve seen in the game. And that was it, my flame of desire was suddenly fully fanned, I had a goal, covetousness was upon me, game-play had emerged from a chain of unrelated events, and all that was required of me was to grind out Kindred reputation with the Council of the North.

But this time I was ready for the grind. I headed over to pick up Mr Flapnoodle, this time leaving my clothes with the confused but otherwise relieved dwarf, and then headed into northern Angmar to hunt the hundreds upon hundreds of Angmarim I’d need to complete my reputation grind, nobly riding naked to battle but for my cape flapping restlessly in the wind behind me.

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