The Road to Mordor: Bits 'n' pieces

Three wolves. A full moon. One incredible cloak in the Lord of the Rings Online store. As a forum poster asked, is the Cloak of the Mountain Wolves too powerful and too intrinsically sweet?

I think it is a distinct possibility. I already own six and have Sauron on farm status because of them. Forget piddly rings -- this is the one cloak to rule them all, and in the darkness, blind them.

I'm a bit all over the place in today's column, so bear with me as I spew forth a 427-line stream-of-consciousness poem devoted to Aragorn's stubble. You totally know you want to hit the jump to read it. I triple-dog-dare ya.

[Editor -- No, Justin, you have to write a normal column. Don't make me get the fire hose.]

Darn.

Scouting the update

The November Update has landed, and I'd consider it a moderate success. There's no one overriding feature to the patch, but instead there are quite a few useful improvements, additions, and changes. I've spent the week feeling out the update, and I think that if this any indication of how Turbine's handling the post-F2P patches, I'm on board. There's a lot of awesome here.

First of all, big applause for the additional content for the F2P gamers. Both expansions are now accessible in terms of zones, legendary items, epic storyline and the level 65 cap, although you'll still have to pony up some TP for quests and deeds in the regions. Now more than ever before, it's (technically) feasible to power a free account all the way through Moria, Mirkwood and Enedwaith without hitting an impassable ceiling along the way. Even better, Turbine's made the Lone-lands quest pack free for everyone (which does kind of suck if you've already paid TP for it, but moving on, moving on), effectively expanding the full-featured free game to level 30ish or so. Plus, another free zone equals more bonus TP to earn and a second dungeon to romp around in!

Less thrilling is the new task system and the barter wallet. Both are, well, functional but underwhelming in execution. Griping about more quests in the game (which are just repeatable kill/collect chores) is somewhat futile; more content is more content, although I don't see the huge attraction to doing these. Sure, you get some XP, a few deeds and -- if you put a buttload of time into it -- a cosmetic cloak, but it takes gold out of your pocket (since you're giving away your vendor trash instead of selling it) and seems to be there to clutter your quest log more than anything else.

Likewise, the barter wallet is a nice idea in theory, but since it only takes in a couple of barter currencies out of the many, many tokens LotRO fills your inventory with, it feels like it's got a ways to go until it sees its full potential. Although Sapience assured us that most of the skirmish tokens are now moved over to the wallet, I've found that some remain stubbornly in my inventory and resist being moved over.

"You shall not pass... these incredible features!"

I'll end on a couple of positive notes. The tweaks to Rune-keepers and Lore-masters (I play the latter) are very much welcomed, and I've been having a blast using Staff Sweep to thwack multiple monsters across the noggin as the situation warrants. If you do play a Lore-master, beware: Turbine's stocked the store so full of LM-exclusive items (non-combat pets and combat pet cosmetics) that it's entirely possible to go broke if you can't find the willpower to close the screen.

Even better is the Vault 3.0 system, which finally feels "right" compared to the older iterations of our storage. It's super-easy to organize your belongings, and I appreciate the ability to quickly open up shared storage and the wardrobe from within the interface.

Speaking of the interface, kudos on the expanded quest box UI. Sure, now it takes up 80% of my screen's real estate, but it looks cleaner, and I'm not wearing down my mouse scroll as much.

I haven't had time to fiddle with crafting much, and I need to set a couple hours aside to reroll my Dwarf Guardian (who will lose his three hard-earned levels) to experience the updated Dwarf/Elf starting zone. A completely revamped beginner experience that uses the past few years' of developer experience to refashion it into a tighter and more fun experience? Seems like the trend lately...

Steed of Night: Fine luxury or rich snobbery?

This past week Turbine stepped up its marketing of the LotRO store, probably to capitalize on both the holiday season and the recent patch. While I agree with the voices out there (not just in my own head) who think that the company is starting to cross the line of tackiness and high-pressure sales pitches, I'm not going to join the complaints against the new Steed of Night. This is a store-exclusive mount that boasts reputation mount-level stats (faster speed, higher durability) and a wicked cool look. I've actually taken to calling it the Tron Horse, because its barding practically glows neon.

There's been a lot of discussion swirling around this mount, but I think it's kind of naive to assume that Turbine wasn't going to sell items like this sooner or later. In fact, as Sapience noted, store-exclusive mounts (among other cosmetic joys) have been a long-standing request of the players. Sure, buying it is essentially a shortcut to a rep horse, but it isn't taking the place of (and therefore, the effort put in to get it) a current mount in the game, and it isn't superior to any other reputation mount in terms of stats. It's simply a different cosmetic option -- and a fairly pricey (~$20) one at that. Frankly, I'll just pick a reputation and put in the time to earn a mount while saving myself some money, thank you.

I did notice one issue with the horse: Anyone I saw purchasing one would mount it and then be unable to move from the dead center of town where everyone was forced to admire it. I totally feel their pain.

In a note unrelated to the debate, I have to tip my hat to the clever Turbine writer who poured poetry into the description of the Steed, which has, and I quote, "a dark charcoal coat with glistening chocolate undertones and amber eyes." Sounds like a yummy Easter bunny, to tell the truth.

Winter-home is coming

However, my most anticipated feature of this update hasn't happened yet -- I'm talking about the revised Yule Festival with Winter-home. The quests sound spiffy, I'm intrigued to explore this new mini-zone, and I'm all over the cosmetic outfits and housing decorations. If I can't quest in a top hat, I want no part of this game!

The festival is tentatively scheduled to start on December 14th, although one never knows. Excuse me while I try to get back on Santa's "nice" list.

I think I'm going to have to run pies around the Shire.

When not enjoying second breakfast and a pint of ale, Justin "Syp" Olivetti jaws about hobbits in his Lord of the Rings Online column, The Road to Mordor. You can contact him via email at justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.
This article was originally published on Massively.