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Book III Vol 1: complete with a return to the Rift

I’ve finished Book III vol 1 now. All in all, going at a leisurely pace, it took us 2 sessions. And a pleasant time was had by all, collecting our Rangers.

We were presented with a choice when we met our Shire Ranger. Should he march or should he stay and protect the hobbits? Party advice differed. Would this have repercussions for the future? Would those who suggested he leave, at some point find themselves in a hobbitless future; I think not, hobbits are tough. Would the party member who suggested he shirk his duty and stay eating pies (you know who you are!) cause the fall of Middle-Earth and the destruction of all that is good and find themselves in a barren wilderness? Who knows? Lets see.

There were also more solo quests. I’m still not sure about these in the epic story. It was a little annoying to continuously have to break group when the whole point of us doing it was to do it together. But nevertheless, some of the instances were effective, I particularly liked the one in Forochel in some rather spectacular ice caves. Have an explore whilst you’re in there and remember to look up.

The grand finale was a return to the Rift. Much loved and still regarded by many as the best designed Raid so far in LOTRO, though no doubt being pre-radiance has something to do with it as well. Anyhow, it was a skirmish. Fair enough. But what made it stand out, was that we needed to use  fellowship maneuvers. I’ve missed fellowship maneuvers since SoA. We still use them but mostly simple ones; all yellows for bleeds, all reds for wounding, and the blue/green maneuvers for power and healing. The most adventuous we get is sticking a yellow, green or blue at the end of a row of reds. Apparently it’s no longer worth doing any more complicated maneuvers since they’ve not been scaled up with the increased levels, but I think we’ve also grown lazy. A shame. I used to love trying them out and deciding on which to use. And managing to do something like Wings of the Windlord; blue, red, green, yellow, blue, red. A triumph when it worked.

Although the maneuvers used in the skirmish were simple, and I assume missed for soloists, at least it seemed to be a move towards acknowledging them. Perhaps it means we’ll see some changes in the future.

Book III Vol 1: pastures old

Book 3, Volume 1 is now out.  I had the pleasure of making a start the other day.

I haven’t finished Book 2. I thought perhaps that I ought to. Then I thought, I don’t actually want to. I realised that if I waited until I finished Book 2 before I started Book 3 I might be waiting a very long time. So I didn’t.

Concern was expressed that Book 2 would be a prerequisite for Book 3 but no, there in Lhach’s mailbox was the usual cryptic little note requesting urgent assistance. Lhach had to go. So, accompanied by two stout companions (that is stout as in moral fibre, not stout as in too many pies), he set off to Rivendell.

There was a slight  disappointment when the first part of the Book was solo,  requiring us to disband. But there was no doubt the prologue  worked well as I was set my task. I was impressed with myself. I recognised everyone mentioned. I even remembered who was involved and what happened at the end of Book 1; this may not sound like much but I assure you, it is.

So, fired up, I met up again with my fellow adventurers outside the Last Homely House.

Our mission was to travel through Middle Earth and marshal the Rangers of the North. Of course this meant much travel which I suppose I should have guessed. But we had a hunter with us, so without much more delay we were soon racing through Middle Earth. Though in our case, racing is a relative term involving breaks for cake,  tea and cat grappling.

We started by returning to the Trollshaws and meeting the ranger there who wanted us kill some orcs in some caves whilst he got himself sorted to leave. Entering the cave complex we encountered a kinmate who was either leaving or going in, no-one was quite sure, the caves are confusing, and he joined us. I liked the caves. They had ruins and were partially water-filled in some places so you had to swim. The orcs were easy for our group to kill, but since the ranger had managed to do it on his own before,  that wasn’t surprising.

After that we stopped by Bree and  Weathertop, finishing in the Shire. Again the quests the rangers gave us were soloable. But I was happy, one of them offered us armour as a reward, none of it any use  but it was nice not to be given a handful of feathers. And for some people the armour might have been lovely.

I enjoyed re-visiting  areas and catching up with our Ranger friends. But I worried about us all blowing any cover they’d had, there were crowds round every campsite. Maybe that was the intention…to send so many people to find them, the Rangers would have no choice but to leave since every Sauron’s minion for miles around would now know their exact location.

Hey ho, that’s war I suppose.

Book 9: the Epic story and the skirmish system

More information emerges about SoM. One snippet I’ve caught via the Turbine forums is this:

apparently the Epic story for Book 9 will not have any group instances but instead will rely on the Skirmish system. So, whereas before you had to group up for certain chapters, in Book 9 you can choose to go solo, in a 3-man, a 6-man or a 12-man group.

I can see positive points about this. Finding groups to complete chapters is not always easy, especially for those coming up later on. People are having serious issues completing the books in Volume 1. Introducing an option to go solo can only be good for this reason. There is no mention of extending this system to earlier books, I’d imagine it would be technically very difficult but what is seems they are doing here is making some group chapters easier to solo. Finally, giving players more choice over how they wish to play the game, surely this is good too.

But, I do have a small niggle. With the option not to group, will people not bother? Will it then become difficult to find a group for a chapter because everyone has done it solo?If you can do it on your own why bother to get 6 or 12 people together? Yes, that would be more fun, but I can see it  happening once, and after that more rarely. It may be that extra elements will be introduced to provide incentives to group. I imagine there would be. There is talk about  incremental rewards related to group size within the Skirmish system but I wouldn’t think these could be too different since that could penalise those unable to group. Some of the best rewards come from completing the books and that can’t/shouldn’t really be changed for any player, in a group or solo. Perhaps we just have to hope that group options are such fun, we will want to play them again and again.

Anyhow, despite my grousing, I feel that making the Epic story easier for all players to complete is probably the right decision. Many players play LOTRO specifically for the story-telling, that Tolkienesque essence, and are less concerned with beating bosses and honing their skills. Making chapters of the Epic story, which is a fundamental part, difficult without a  skilled group is a bit of a disservice to these players who may then find themselves unable to complete.