Thursday, August 30, 2012

LOTRO: My happy war-steed


After our victory of yesterday, I went straight to the Ox-clan merchant camp to barter for something I had wanted for quite some time: the Prized Isengard War-steed. I needed just one more sigil fragment to get it, but we've been wiping over and over on Saruman T2 the past weeks, so I didn't really get any new ones. I thought it was fitting that defeating him now got me enough to finally get it. I was so happy with the horse that I wasted some medallions and seals to barter for the crappy but good-looking Tower of Orthanc robe to go with it. I think the horse was happy with me too, seeing its expression on the picture above.

That was all for today, now only some revealing pictures of Ravanel on her new steed.


Breaking news: Ravanel can be scary! I'm not really sure why she's punching the sky and who catches her furious gaze behind her. Suggestions?


       Isengard Victory set        


You can see that the robe and the steed are meant to fit together by the grey decoration they both have on the fabric - and I love it. The best colour that fitted with the steed was actually grey, but I thought the total picture looked a bit depressing like that. With the robe dyed navy it looks a bit happier. Even though the navy doesn't fit the steed's armour plates perfectly, I feel it's close enough.

I was lazy and didn't pick any fitting gloves and head piece. Sometimes it's just nice to put on a robe and jump on your horse.


PS - Sorry for the terrible title, I simply couldn't resist!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

LOTRO: Turn of the tide


Yesterday evening, we were on Saruman again. Tiger had spend the weekend with a friend (who is also in our raid group) gaming and theorycrafting, and they came back with a slightly tweaked plan for the last phase. Yesterday we tried that for the first time, and it was clear it worked. Of course, not everything went all according to plan...

First, our tank DC'd and didn't come back. Luckily, a warden just came online in our kinship and wanted to help out. It was then that we made a new record in 'amount of Sarumans taken down in the last phase before wiped' and we became a bit enthusiastic. It was getting late, though, so we only had time for one more try - the fourth of that evening. We had a new idea, another small tweak, that I tried out last minute in the first phase, found out it worked, and applied in the last phase. There were three Sarumans down, it was going well... and that was when our rune-keeper healer DC'd. Strangely, our morale didn't drop (the healers probably went into a healing frenzy at this point), we took the fourth Saruman down and everything was still sunshine. It was then that it dawned on us that we could actually make this. But fate had something else for us in store. Two fire Sarumans turned around and simultaneously casted their fire cone in the same direction. This, combined with I think it was an attack from a frost Saruman, one-shotted three people that were on full health and we lost the challenge. It was a tricky moment. However, our rune-keeper friend returned from his DC, we got the people up and we proceeded very carefully - luckily we still had loads of time left. The rest was a smooth story. We all were very focused until the end, I just couldn't believe we were actually going to do it, but we did - we took down Saruman T2!

It's hard to express my joy at this feat, but it felt super good. Tiger and I have been there every serious attempt, we raided many days a week for the past month and worked on the strategy. We worked hard for it and finally making it was simply amazing.

On the picture: the lore-master in white-and-red, that's me, and Tiger is the vertically challenged gentleman's thief with the top hat at my side. The warden seems to have broken down from exhaustion. Meanwhile the eagle is keeping an eye out, making sure the loot is fairly distributed.


So what was in the box?

First, there was the obligatory first age symbol, cloak clasp and 'warden loot' plus a teal bow, but there were also some useful drops. There was a nice tank pocket item, the Ancient Onyx Key, and an agility/crit earring, Olloch, that made Tiger really happy - he won it on his burglar. I think that, strangely enough, most of us weren't that interested in the loot, though. I certainly wasn't paying that much attention. We were all very happy, even the raid progression thread was happy, and we were already making plans to work on the challenges we have not done yet. With all these happy thoughts, I could safely go to bed and fall asleep.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Skyrim: Mods


I've really been enjoying the Skyrim posts that emerge on the blogs around me. Eldaeriel, Rakuno and Ocho and I have been forming this small group that loves to write and read about each others adventures in Skyrim - at least, in my silly mind! They also all have written about their favorite mods for this game and I obviously can't stay behind!

There's an amazing amount of mods available for Skyrim, and many of them will greatly improve the game. Tiger and I use over 50 mods (seriously, I don't know how the game survives it) and use the Nexus mod manager to keep them in line, which works well so far. Here are the ones I enjoy the most, sorted by type.

1) Game mechanics

Skyrim is an amazing game, but some things could've been done better. The Convenient horses mod shows this: with it, you can allow you to interact with your environment while riding a horse (talking to NPC's, picking flowers). It's pretty ridiculous that you normally can't, if you think of it! The mod also allows your companion to ride a horse, so they don't have to run after you all the time, and you can summon your horse with a horn. Plus it introduces more intelligent modes for your horse, so it won't break you out of sneak. A great mod if you like to ride. Another mod I like is Auto Unequip Ammo, which means that you don't keep the arrows on your back all the time when you swap between weapons. Finally, I really recommend SkyTEST - Realistic Animals. It makes animals hunt and generally act smarter. It's crazy if you see what this mod does.

2) Utility

Some mods give better utilities, such as Better sorting, which renames potions and other items in a logical way so they sort better and allows you to decrease the weight for potions. I know weight decrease is kind of a cheat, but I spent so much time getting rid of junk that I wasn't enjoying playing anymore. Couldn't live without this one! Another nice utility mod is Categorized Favorites Menu, which sorts your favorite weapons, spells, potions, shouts, armour etc into categories. I can't even imagine what the game would play like without these. The categories really make it easy to find your important stuff fast in mid-fight. I also have a Quality world map installed, which shows the roads more clearly. Lastly, I use Unread books glow, just to make it a bit easier to keep track.


3) Visual improvements

We use Countervibe ENB, and I simply love it. It's a complete overhaul of the game graphics that makes it look fantastic, while still looking authentic. I'm not exaggerating if I say I can't play the game without it anymore. In addition, I have small extras installed that makes the environment look more realistic, such as Birds and flocks, Better Dynamic Snow, Skyrim Flora Overhaul and Lush Grass. I found W.A.T.E.R. - Water and Terrain enhancement reduce better looking than Pure Waters (tried them both).

4) Character looks

To have some extra options with the character creation, I installed Apachii Sky Hair, which adds about 80 new hair models. I also use Better females to improve female faces. They don't look like barbie dolls, but just have a bit more detail.

5) Fun things

Some things aren't very useful, but just a lot of fun. Footprints falls into this category. Both you and NPC's will leave footprints while walking in the snow, which is how it should be. More morbid mods are Enhanced blood textures and Realistic Ragdolls and Force, which makes NPC's and - if you're unlucky - you, die in a more realistic way.


More mods to try

After all this mod fun, I finally took the time to carefully read the mod posts of my fellow bloggers:
Casual Aggro: The Modification of Skyrim: Top 10 Skyrim Mods
Shards of Imagination: [Skyrim] Adventures with Mods! 
StarShadow: Skyrim: Mods and Build
I recommend to read them if you're into Skyrim mods. They're all excellent posts.

I selected the following mods from them and installed them. I want to try these the coming days:

  • Amazing Follower Tweaks & Better Followers: Is supposed to fix followers so they won't trigger traps and won't equip heavy armour if they're mages etc. Seems useful for Ravereth.
  • Build your own home: Ravereth is a wood elf, so she doesn't want to live in the city. A house in the wilderness sounds just about right! Am also just curious how this works, so want to try it out.
  • Lanterns of Skyrim: The roads can do with some lighting, in my opinion.
  • Wearable lanterns: Allows you to wear lanterns on your belt, so you can still equip weapons. Seems handy.
  • Skyrim HD (2k textures): Skyrim should look even better with this.
Let me know if there's a vital mod I missed!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Skyrim: Small adventures


When I had just gotten Skyrim, I asked advice on which type to play in Skyrim, and of course I got mixed answers, most favouring either the hunter or the mage type. I've played until level 20 on Ravereth the hunter since, but today I've been a bad girl, felt the itch and succumbed to mage. Now I play Ravanel, I notice how much I've missed roasting things (as demonstrated on the picture above)! I also like learning new spells, and discovering new tricks. The mage feels a bit more versatile than hunter, as I keep mixing different spells, while as a hunter you... well... just keep shooting arrows at things. I also was getting a bit tired of having Lyria running after me all the time. I've build Ravanel with a bit more health than Ravereth and she should be able to survive on her own. Theoretically.


Eventually I'll want to try out other playstyles, such as that of my two-handed warrior, as well. I'm not sure yet which character I will stick to in the end. Perhaps I will hopelessly keep switching between them all the time!

Adventures

One of my favorite things about Skyrim is the random factor. Of course there are quests with set scripts, but there's also a chance that something unexpected happens. If I'm wandering around, there are always these little adventures I run into, and sometimes I won't be able to repeat them on another character. Here are some:


Freshhh fish

Ravereth discovered a cave called Darkwater Pass and took a peek inside. It was very dark, but there was a lot of water, and I could hear the splashing of fish. All of a sudden, she was found by a strange goblin-like creature (of which I later learned it was called a Falmer) that attacked her. It was relatively though to fight, but she managed in the end. When she looked on his body, she found a freshly caught fish. He had been sitting at the edge of the water in that cave, catching fish. A Gollum reference? Either way, the cave freaked her out, so she quickly returned to the outside world and continued her travels.



Orcish delight

Ravanel had to pass a certain region in the mountains, wherein she got harassed by two sabre-toothed tigers. They're such a pain! There was no way she could get past them while sneaking. She also couldn't kite them, as they leapt from the shadows right on top of her, and run very fast. On top of that, it was night and she couldn't see them well at all. I nearly got a heart attack each time they killed poor Ravanel. So she gave up and spent the night at a bedroll in some nearby camp, and dreaded the next day to come.

However, she found them both dead the next day by the hand of an old orc. She didn't tell him, but you can imagine her relief! The orc asked me if she please could kill him in a duel (for some weird orcish reason he wanted to die), but considering his recent victorious involvement with the sabres, I passed.


Very protective

Ravanel usually runs around in her gothic necromancer's robes, but carries some light armour with her as well, for the rare cases when she's not allowed to use magic (for instance in bar brawls - oh yeah, I'm totally into those!). Today she looted some new light armour that had a much higher armour rating than her previous. I was a bit baffled when she put it on, though. How exactly does this protect me? If I encounter an enemy, will it be... 'distracted' by my looks or something?!

I hope you enjoyed these stories. Have you had similar adventures as well? Or am I the only one who experiences Skyrim like this?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

LOTRO: Lore-master legendary items


Recently, H asked me for advice on how to customize his lore-master's legendary items (LI's). Since I get this question more often, and that particular thread is starting to get a bit lengthy, I thought it best to give the subject the space it deserves and write a post.

First off, I don't consider myself "the expert on LI's" or something, I'll just go with what I found to be effective myself. I should also tell you that I built my lore-master mainly for PvE (and specifically for raiding), and my LI's reflect this. My optimal choice might not be the best for you if you have a different playstyle (EM comes to mind).

Warning: nerdy content follows! I assume that you to know how the legendary item system in LotRO works. If you don't, it might be an idea to read an external guide like Legendary Items 101 first. You'll probably be bored to death by this post anyway.

My setup

I use five different LI's while playing. Five?! But I thought you can only equip two at a time? That's correct, but I like going for maximum efficiency, and there simply were more legacies than would fit on two items. I also like to get crazy and swap staves and books mid-fight. That doesn't mean you can't get away with a (slightly less efficient) build of just one staff and one book, don't worry. And while I do recommend at least a separate raiding book if you're serious about raiding, you certainly don't have to swap LI's mid-fight.

Lore-master books

I have three of these, mainly because I'm crazy and the legacies I wanted didn't fit on two. To the left my support book, to the right my DPS book.


Priorities


Support book
Tactical healing rating maxed out
Signs of power durations
Healing from Beacon of Hope
Target resistance (debuffing skills)
DPS book
+5% fire skill damage title
Fire damage over time
Pulses legacies
Target resistance (damaging/fire skills)








While the Target resistance legacies are no more than an extra bunch of skill type specific finesse, lore-masters don't get that much finesse from gear, so I do recommend to take those legacies if you can. For raids, it is important to have so much finesse that your debuffs never get resisted.

A common misunderstanding  is the the thought that the legacy Signs of Power durations only prolongs the duration of your stun immunity. However, it prolongs the duration of all Signs of Power buffs. The main reason why this legacy is absolutely vital on a raid book is because it allows you to keep up Sign of Power: See All Ends on the target 100% of the time (in combination with Force of Will, the Ancient Master capstone). A must for every serious raiding lore-master.

My third book is a pet book ("Creatures of Middle-earth"), which I use to to apply a Sign of the Wild to my pet. When I equip either my support or DPS book, the improved buff on the pet stays. I also swap it in if I need to use Bane Flare.

Tips: if you're making a separate DPS and support book, you don't have to spend any points in tactical healing rating on your DPS book (= more points to spend on legacies). If you have the luxury of a first age symbol that you don't need to spend on something else (I would spend one on a staff first), your book will get an extra amount of tactical damage (1-5%) as a passive. Otherwise the age doesn't matter apart from the available amount of points to spend. If you have a second age symbol available, I would prioritize a second age book for your support book over that of your DPS book, as second age books (and first age books) have a higher outgoing healing rating than third age books. Tactical healing rating affects your healing (including Beacon of Hope and Share the Power) more than any legacy. 


Lore-master staves

I have two staves: a support staff (left) and a DPS staff (right). As there's only one legacy important for a support staff, you can combine it all on one staff as well, if you wish to do so (but you'll have less points to spend on DPS).



Priorities


Support staff
Share the Power Increase
Nice passives
DPS staff
Damage title (e.g. Beleriand)
Tactical Skills Direct Damage
Fire Skills Critical Multiplier
Burning Embers Initial Damage






Sometimes someone comes to me and says something along the lines of: Hey, look at my new legendary item, it's great! It got Ents go to War and Lightning Storm all maxed out. Uhm, yeah. Thing is, Ents and Lightning Storm are great burst damage skills, but they got long cooldowns. If you want to increase your sustained DPS, and arguably even your burst DPS (because often, these skills will be on cooldown), you're better off with the other legacies I've posted above. Another thing to remember, is that your fire damage gets insane buffs from both the Master of Nature's Fury traits line and legacies. Since the vast majority of lore-master damaging skills consists of fire skills with short cooldowns, it rewards your DPS to focus your legacies on these. That's why I like buffing fire skills through legacies more than, say, taking Light of the Rising Dawn damage (light damage doesn't get many buffs, reasonably long cooldown, mostly useful for the stun) or Storm-lore damage (lightning damage doesn't get many buffs, long cooldown, weak damage).

It's a different story in the Ettenmoors (PvP), were the fights are short and burst damage is great. This article is aimed at a PvE reader public.

Tip: if you're making a separate support staff, it doesn't matter what age it is, because you don't have to spend many points, nor will do DPS with it. You can see that I even kept my level 65 third age staff, because it doesn't matter that much (apart from not being able to use good relics if it's really low level) and I haven't been able to find a level 75 one with equal passives so far. For your DPS staff, though, you do want the earliest age you can afford of the maximum available level, because these have a higher DPS rating, plus more points to spend. Just like with the books, the DPS rating pretty much affects your damage output more than any legacy.



Relics

There are different needs to be served depending on if you provide support or if you DPS. In hard (T2) raids, everyone will take damage, and it will often be tactical. That's why I look for tactical mitigation (tip: title on your book), in-combat power regen and morale on my support relics. In normal group content, the lore-master is usually the lowest on the threat list, so you don't need to stack loads of morale. That's why I go for crit and tactical mastery on my DPS items. If you suddenly do need morale while DPS'ing (e.g. soloing), you can always slot mitigation and morale virtues and swap in jewellery with more morale - all much easier than swapping your relics.

DPS lore-master tip: I like the Settings of Ending: it's the only thing that increases your devastate magnitude, and crit is pretty good for a DPS lore-master.  

Updates

I've looked at the upcoming lore-master changes with Riders of Rohan and don't expect many changes on how to build your lore-master legendary items - apart from that we'll have to get them up to level 85, of course. I might keep this post up to date with my new LI's when the time is there.

I hope this was helpful. If you have any questions or did I do it all wrong, feel free to write below and I'll try to answer. Let's talk lore-master!

Monday, August 20, 2012

SWTOR: It's world boss time!


Just some quick pictures of Saturday night, when I spent until 3 o'clock in the morning traveling space with guildmates, hunting down world bosses. For no reason, really, just because we could.

For those who don't know: almost every planet in SWTOR has a world boss that can be found somewhere in the landscape and needs to be taken down by a large group of people. They are known to drop nice items. We killed quite some of them for fun, although many on low level planets dropped only useless low level items. Sadly enough there didn't seem to be an achievement for killing all of them.


Above you see world boss Snowblind on Hoth, looking rather cute and innocent, although he did have the ability to blind our sight and deal damage if we weren't cuddled up. What would you do if you're just enjoying your Saturday night wandering through your favourite icicle wood and you suddenly get attacked by eight savages with lightsabers?

Hoth apparently was one of the few planets with two world bosses, so we also visited Snowblind's colleague Gargath (again, with deadly consequences). Reason for a party!


We found out that there was some sort of achievement after all, and that was to kill four of the hardest world bosses to get an err... 'very pretty' purple speeder (picture on top of this post), among which Snowblind and Gargath. The third was the Primal Destroyer on Belsavis, and that one too we sought out. Orokeet was also allowed to help in the form of moral support.


On this one I had to get awake and actually heal people. We lost one person, but made it without a wipe. Hurray! Sadly enough, the fourth world boss for the speeder is the Nightmare Pilgrim, for which you need 16 people with full Rakata (= very good) gear and a special item in order not to get one-shot. We don't have enough people with that gear in my guild yet, but I surely hope to do it one day. Until then, I'll keep the speeder quest in my log.

TL;DR

Hunting world bosses is not particularly challenging or rewarding, but it can be a fun way to spend the evening with your gaming friends.

Friday, August 17, 2012

SWTOR: A Tiger on Steam


Introducing Tiger

Yesterday, I read an interesting discussion following a post from Rowan of I Have Touched The Sky called My Lovely Bride. Several well known bloggers were discussing how to mention your 'significant other' in blog posts, and it was fun to see what solutions they came up with. Many were using nicknames for themselves and for their partners. It also raised the question of how I should call my own boyfriend, as I remember that he once mentioned he didn't like the distant 'my boyfriend' after he read a post. So I asked him. Response:

"Yeah, I don't really care. Can be my first name, but a mystery name is okay too."

"What mystery name did you have in mind?"

"Tiger?"

...

"You do realize that sounds like a stage name, right? I mean, like, one of the wrong kind of performer."

No response.

So there we go, 'my boyfriend' will now officially be replaced with 'Tiger' and we'll see how long I can keep it up with a straight face.

On the pictures: Tiger rocking on Jedi guardian Rheiya in SWTOR.

SWTOR on Steam

So, um, 'Tiger' has fixed something for me, namely: I can now play Star Wars through Steam! I first had a workaround set up that would launch Origin through Steam and say "Star Wars: The Old Republic" instead of "Origin" when I'd click the icon, but it meant that I had to type in passwords three times instead of two times, and the Steam chat overlay didn't work. Tiger searched the internet and found a way that makes it work correctly after all, and I thought I should share it with my fellow SWTOR players:


Warning: deployment of nerdy boyfriends/girlfriends may be necessary. Enjoy!

Edit (January 2013): this has been fixed so you don't need to create your own file anymore, now you need to run Steam as administrator and use Launcher.exe in your Library.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

LOTRO: On the menu

Random picture of today (above, working on 5.): who needs a flashlight if you got a lore-master?

There's a few people online in my kinship, but there's not that much happening in LotRO during the day: it's the traditional quiet before the launch of a new expansion. Understandable, since gear you win is going to be outdated within 20 days, and that's not very motivating. Still, there is enough to gain that will keep it's value. What will I be doing before Riders of Rohan unleashes? 

1. A virtue-a-day
Virtues now go up to 14, and while my lore-master has been taken care of, my captain and rune-keeper are hopping behind, having their virtues in between 10-14. It's not too bad, but grinding virtues is just so damn boring. I know I won't have the patience for it once Riders of Rohan is there, so I can better do it before. If I complete one deed a day, it should be doable. I already started well today on my captain by getting lost in the Fanged Pit to complete the Eastern Durin's Way exploration deed.

2. Skirmisher deed
Skirmish marks are useful and I'm sure they'll come in handy when we need new empowerment scrolls with the Riders of Rohan. Besides, since there was a deed introduced for killing all encounters in all skirmishes, I've been wanting to get it done on my lore-master. I've done so many skirmishes with her during the Rise of Isengard time back when there was no end-game yet, that it shouldn't be too much work. I should look up which encounters I still need, make a list, and get this going.

3. Role-play a hamster
There's a dutch verb, 'hamsteren', and it means gathering supplies in advance (because you think the world's going to end and the grocery shops will be empty, for instance). Guess that tells something about us dutch people. In this case, I think hamsteren would be appropriate: the needs of a leveling character are high and I want to spend all my available time on enjoying the new content. So I'll be stacking iXP runes in my vault and will try to get at least one empty bag on each character - a new expansion also means new junk. I'm already busy with crafting guild symbols in expectation of a new crafting tier: a kinnie did that a year ago with the Rise of Isengard expansion, got kindred with Westfold right away and could craft us new guild recipes the first day. I thought this was smart, as you need crafted stuff especially while leveling - in end-game, you'll mostly be looking for drops anyway.

4. Craft away
It would be good to at least get that westfold farmer's tier over with, the last incomplete crafting tier of my three raiding characters. And that's even on my main character, Ravanel the lore-master! Crafting a stack of barley each week should do the trick and will even help my supplies for 5., because last but not least...


5. Take down Saruman
...we need to take down Saruman! We have cleared everything on T2 now apart from Saruman, and although the fight is very though, I do think it is possible. I believe the Tower of Orthanc raid is/was a bit too hard, as I don't believe many kinships worldwide have completed all the challenges. Fire & Ice challenge, for instance, is still believed to be impossible without two burgs even after the nerfs to the fight. Given the difficulty of this raid, I'll settle for clearing everything on T2, but no less!

With these five points taken care of, I should be totally ready for the Riders of Rohan expansion. What do you want to achieve before the 5th of September?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Girl and Nightfury


To stick to the topic of dragons: here a drawing of the dragon Nightfury plus girl I made today, inspired by "How to train your dragon", the cute children's movie with even cuter dragons. I've been drawing things now and then on my Wacom tablet, and I guess I'm more or less okay with this result. Nightfury looks a lot... scarier than it actually is on this picture, but that's sort of fun.

I'm still frustrated with Photoshop. Perhaps I'm just bad at browsing, but each tiny thing I want to do requires half an hour of searching the internet. Sometimes I just really can't find it. How do I get colours to shift gradually, as is so easy to do with real pencil and paper? How do I get a line that looks as if it's made by a real pencil? How do I use the fill bucket tool? Things I still haven't been able to find. So here's two things I learned from making this picture, for future personal reference (and who knows, it might help someone else out as well):

How to create a circle:
  • Change the main colour to what you want you want to be the colour of your circle
  • Select the shape tool (press U / 7th icon from below on the left bar)
  • Right-click on the icon and select the Ellipse tool
  • Hold shift while dragging to create a perfect circle instead of an ellipse
I don't know the official way for not filling the circle automatically, but I'm glad I didn't need that option for this drawing.

How to change the background colour:
  • Change the main colour to what you want to be the colour of your background
  • Select the background layer
  • Click alt/option + delete

Remember, this is how it works on Photoshop CS6 13.0 on a Mac. It might work different with another version and  there might be better ways. These are just simple solutions that work for me.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Skyrim: Slaying dragons


Dragons! They are my favorite mythical creatures (together with griffons). Dragons are clever, sly and manipulative. Stories with dragons are often both epic and tragic. They're good stories. So of course I was excited when I found out that dragons were going to be an important part of Skyrim's story.

The only bad part is that you have to slay them.


So much better!

But ah well, lets return to the Skyrim reality: slaying dragons. Instead of closing some sort of hell gates (Oblivion) as a repetitive feature, you now keep on killing large winged animals. Which is much more exciting, I must say. Not only because they're, well, dragons, but also because you have no idea where they are and might stumble into one by accident.

Dragon in the dark

During one of my assignments, I had to meet a member of a dragon slayer support group (yeah, you have those in Skyrim - make it up and it exists). I couldn't find her, as it was night and a heavy snow storm just burst out. It became apparent that we had a second problem...


...right under our noses, a dragon was reborn! We learned that dragon babies are not friendly, are not actually babies but already fully grown up and can hurt you a lot. An insane fight against flying shadows followed, wherein we luckily had the giveaway of the clearly visible fire it was spitting towards my companion Lydia. It was an exiting fight against a nearly invisible enemy and huge was my relief when we finally made it.


I waited next to the corpse for the morning to dawn and it was only then that I could finally see where I was. A large hole marked the place where the dragon was awakened. I also finally managed to find my dragon slayer groupie and could continue my quest.


I did replay this part later on and waited until dawn before I went to this place, to be able to see what was going on and, of course, to do a dragon photoshoot. I'm not really happy with the result. Somehow, dragons are really exiting and scary when you encounter them in-game, but if you look back at the pictures afterwards, they don't look that impressive after all. It's like when I draw dragons: I'm hardly ever satisfied with the result. I don't think I've found 'the perfect dragon' yet.

Unfair

There's one thing that embarrasses me a bit, and that's the actual act of dragon slaying itself. It occurs to me that my companion Lydia stands in the fire all the time (which would kill me in one hit) and I just shoot a bit at the beast from a distance. When 'we' kill it, I get to be a famous Dragon Slayer, and all she gets is a a pat on the back for being a good servant. While she did all the dangerous stuff!

Above: Lydia once again getting roasted.

Doing it right?

There's another thing that puzzles me. Sometimes I run into a dragon while traveling to a quest location, and get attacked. I'm forced to kill the beast. Now I've found several dragon shouts that I'm not able to use, so I thought I might need to kill a dragon in order to be able to do so. Indeed, once when I killed a dragon, it said "Dragon Soul absorbed", but the shouts I had collected were still greyed out and there was no way of finding any "dragon souls" back. I just hope I'm not missing something or even messing things up by killing dragons now that are meant to be killed later. 

Any advice (please no huge spoilers) is welcome!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

SWTOR: It's pink and it bites


Star Wars players were pleasantly surprised today by a Gannifari in their mailbox. Apparently, this, plus 25 Black Hole Commendations, was Bioware’s way of saying thanks for moving our characters to more crowded servers.

Despite my general concerns about sending pets in lockboxes by mail and giving pets as presents to unexpecting caretakers, the Gannifari seemed to be doing alright. Although I did have to take a few steps back when he showed his temper.

How do I get one?

To get your Gannifari, simply get the lockbox from your mail and open it. You can (re)summon your pet by opening the Abilities window and looking under Pets. Click the icon and... there it is! Note that you cannot use the lockbox if you're lower than level 20. You will have to store it somewhere until you are. If you did not receive a mail, this could be because you didn't transfer or don't play on a destination server.

I’m not sure why, but - even though this baby dinosaur has a creepy fly eyes and might occasionally bite - I still think it's cute.

A similar article has been published on Irez.me as "7 August - It's pink and it bites".

Monday, August 6, 2012

LOTRO: Tickling the evil wizard


I was subtly reminded by Iaksones that I haven't talked about raiding for a while. And that while I promised raiding as a recurrent topic some time ago! I suppose I'm really too chaotic to post on a regular schedule. I will, however, keep posting some raiding news from time to time.

Takedown psychology
Lately, my kinship has been into Saruman T2 and I've been in there with them almost every time. We even skipped some locks (well, did them quickly on T1 to get them over with) to be able to spend more time on Saruman. Which can turn out well or less well for a takedown, as I've learned in the past.

In a previous kinship, a long time ago, we had only Gortheron T2 left to complete before the Rise of Isengard would dawn. We spent months doing nothing else. I once expressed concerns to a friend who was in the officer team. Are we not overstretching ourselves? Will people keep enjoying themselves? "How so?" was her reply. "We have to do it, and I want that (server first-only) title."

In the end, we stopped making progress. We were close to making it. Close, but not close enough. New approaches were dismissed, as the leadership was convinced we were on the right road. We kept trying and trying, but eventually a negative atmosphere emerged. We just didn't get any further. I think it was that people didn't really believe they could do it anymore. As some of the negativity was directed at my boyfriend and I, we thought it better to leave and join the kinship I'm currently in.

With our experience of the fight, combined with an enthusiastic group, we came up with a totally different strategy and bested Gortheron T2 Challenge only a few weeks later. It was an amazing experience. What I learned from it was this:
  • Be open-minded. Progress works best if everyone feels free to share their ideas and are listened at. Try them all. There's no shame in trying a bad strategy, because it will teach you what works and what doesn't. Don't be afraid to discuss and improve yourself.
  • Don't get stuck. But if you do, don't do what we did. Take a break, work on something else for a while and return fresh. You're playing LotRO for fun, after all, not to feel demotivated.
 

Saruman
So far for all the seriousness. How are we doing on Saruman? To be honest, it's been great. Of course there's a lot of dying, but any serious raider should have a high dying tolerance. I can enjoy nothing more than working towards a takedown like this. I love getting to know a fight so well that I know exactly which mechanic gets introduced in which phase. I love the discussions on how to improve on the kinship forums. I love knowing exactly what to do when and what to prioritize. When I'm on Saruman T2, I'm 100% lore-master.

Last night, we broke our record of amount of Sarumans downed during the last phase. We also achieved something else that might be even more important, and that was total control over the first four phases. We could do them in a relaxed atmosphere and play "I see something and it starts with a D..." (forgot how the game is called in English). It's only the last phase that requires all our attention. I've been having so much fun, I can barely wait for our next try.


Gaming laptop
My computer, meanwhile, has been having less fun doing Saruman. Environmental shifts such as acid above (and frost in particular) are too much for my graphics card to handle and cause gigantic lag, even on the "very low" graphics setting. I could cope with it on the first phases, but it gets so bad when we get to the ten Sarumans that I had to resort to claiming my boyfriend's gaming laptop. It took some time to set up the plugins and to get used to playing on such a small screen, but I got it working. And now I can even take nice screenshots while raiding! Only when pulling power of course, I don't want to wipe the group...

I do think the environmental shifts are a great idea. In addition to their dangers, they also make the fight visually challenging. The clear winner is definitely the shadow shift, which turns everything black! 


Can you find the 1. guardian's shield; 2. main Saruman; 3. minstrel; 4. lore-master; 5. captain banners; 6. champion; 7. raven and 8. burglar? Tip: click on the image for a larger version.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

LOTRO: Ready for summer


Summer outfit

Just a quick post to show my new summer outfit, as promised. With thanks to Danania ("Supergirl") for pointing out that the dress that I missed getting this spring wasn't bound and my friend Liry for letting me borrow hers to put in my wardrobe! I don't really care about sets and think it looks great with the faire's flower circlet. Isn't this the perfect outfit for a summer's day in the park?


Well, if the weather would be a bit better, that is. I guess that's where the long sleeves come in.


One final note: do watch out for bears while you're hanging around. Those buggers even roam the most idyllic picknick spots. Luckily, I can take them out with my fists these days. Go Rav!


     Summer's outfit      


You can get the circlet at the current farmer's faire. If you missed getting the dress in the spring, check the auction halls to see if it's offered there, or borrow one from a friend, like I did.

Sadly, the circlet cannot be dyed, but the dress can. Simbelmynë's dress  also looks great with it when dyed violet. Let me know if you found another nice combination!

I'm usually not really the type, but sometimes it's just great to run around and look happy and cute.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Skyrim: Crafting potions and sneaking around


My previous Skyrim post ended up with amazing walls of text from comments, full with tips and advice. I haven't had enough time to answer everything (I will, I promise), but thanks all for sharing your game experience! The tips were very helpful. As to which character to stick to, most people favoured either Ravereth or Ravanel (with a slight head start for Ravereth), so I started playing on Ravereth, and I quite like it!

Sneaking
This is the first time I play a hunter-like class in an Elder Scrolls game, but the combination of sneaking around and hitting hard from stealth works like a charm. It's funny how squishy I am, though. My boyfriend laughed at me when I was trying not to one-shot a mudcrab to catch its soul, and then got killed by one hit. One hit! I mean, it's a crab, right...

Crafting potions
A weak spot of mine has always been Alchemy. I just love to explore and gather all flowers and then brew weird stuff from it. It's also a nice way to get some money without walking around with heavy stuff. There's something about me and games (I have the same in Lord of the Rings Online), but I'm always overencumbered.

Something seems to have changed since the other Elder Scrolls games: while you could use food (venison, cabbage, apples etc) for alchemy before, now you can only use it to cook it. Cooked food only regenerates a little bit of health/stamina/magicka, so it's a lot less efficient than potions. Still, I suppose it's still useful at the start of the game, when you don't have many resources and recipes to make potions.

 Just a list for me to remember what ingredients are useful:


Potions

Restore health
  • Mountain flower (blue)
  • Butterfly wing (monarch)
  • Egg (rock warbler)
  • Wheat
  • Imp stool
Restore stamina
  • Honeycomb
  • Mountain flower (purple)
  • Claw (bear)
Restore magicka
  • Creep Cluster
  • Mora Tapinella
  • Mountain Flower (red)
  • White Cap

Food

Restore health + stamina

Stew - apple cabbage: immediate effect
  • Saltpile
  • Apple (red) 
  • Cabbage
Soup - vegetable: over-time effect
  • Potato
  • Leek - raw
  • Tomato
  • Cabbage

Perhaps I should give up on collecting food, though, as it's starting to become very inefficient. I think it's in fact all the food I carry around that makes me overencumbered. It's sort of a shame that you can't use food anymore for potions (as you were able to do in earlier Elder Scrolls games). If I shoot a deer, what should I do with it? Just take the hide and leave the meat? Such a shame. I must admit some potion combinations were a bit ridiculous. Like, onions, for breathing under water? I guess the current mechanic is a bit more realistic, but in the end it's still a fantasy game.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

SWTOR: Thoughts on free-to-play


Star Wars: The Old Republic is going free-to-play, and honestly, I'm not surprised. In fact, I had already written half of this post a month ago, and it was just sitting in a box waiting for a suitable moment to be published. Why is free-to-play ("F2P") a logical progression, you say? Because:
  1. SWTOR is at that famous point their game lost it 'shinyness' causing the loss of a lot of customers and needs to make sure their model keeps working, and 
  2. the F2P model is seen by many gaming critics as the future of the MMO world, whether gamers like it or not.
The only thing that surprises me a bit, is the speed at which F2P is released. Then again, the faster it comes, the less time there is for players to worry. F2P in SWTOR will be available this November.

Different systems
I play two MMO's that are based on different business models. On one side there's SWTOR, which currently works with a monthly subscription model. On the other side there's LotRO, which has a hybrid model of so called "VIP's" (consisting of monthly subscribers and oldschool life timers) who get most content automatically, and F2P players who don't and have to buy individual quest packs.

Free-to-play in Lord of the Rings Online
On first sight, the LotRO system looks the most appealing, and there are many people who praise it. If you haven't played for a while, it's quite easy to get back into the game without having to pay for anything and can just enjoy yourself familiarizing yourself again. If you get caught up enough you can choose to buy a quest pack or expansion, or start subscribing again. This seems to be the way to go for online games in a time when there are very many MMO's offered and an increasing amount of players don't stick to one MMO, but rather 'butterfly' from game to game. Another often heard argument for F2P is that you "pay for what you play": you can carefully pick what you want to do and only pay for that. If you never raid, you don't buy that content and you don't indirectly pay for them through a subscription fee either - at least, that's the idea. In LotRO, it's even possible to receive small amounts of Turbine Points or 'TP' (the coinage used to buy quest packs and other things in the in-game store) by completing in-game achievements ('deeds'). So of course there are people who make a sport out of it and try to progress in the game by only completing deeds and buying quest packs from the TP earned through that. A journal of a LotRO player trying this out can be found at Wynnie goes Free to Play.

Sounds great, right? So would could possibly be wrong with the LotRO system?

Potential free-to-play problems
I guess it all boils down to your own personality. For me, there are several things I dislike about LotRO F2P:
  1. Planning ahead and thinking about what to purchase. I know some people are shopaholics, but I personally don't like spending money. I want to spend my time in-game having fun, not thinking about which expansion, quest pack or item to buy. If I pay a monthly fee, I know how much it is but I'm not reminded of it all the time. I'll automatically receive all content (apart from expansions), so I can try everything I feel like without feeling any pressure. Basically, F2P isn't for me. You can subscribe to LotRO, though, so what am I moaning about? Well, there is problem 2:
  2. Subscribing doesn't give you everything there is. A subscription used to include everything apart from expansions. This has changed. Store items include things you can only get through the store, and in some cases this are game system things that would've been given to everyone as an update in the pre-F2P era. For instance the barter wallet, that lets you store barter items in there instead of in your bags, freeing up loads of bag space. In practice, this means that subscribers pay the same, but get less.
  3. In-game advertisement environment. There is a tendency to trick players into buying more. This is easy to spot for players who have played LotRO since the launch in 2007 and still do as of today. Where the game used to be only about having fun in Middle-earth, now there are buttons hidden everywhere that lead you to the LotRO store. Need to complete a deed to get a virtue sorted? If you click on it, you'll get directed to the store, where you can buy the virtue and don't need to do anything in-game. Recently, festival activities have been introduced with an extremely rare chance to get a certain mount or item. Of course, if you aren't lucky enough, you can always buy it in the store. These are just two examples how sneaky advertisements try to lure people into buying more. For me, they distort immersion with the beautiful world of Tolkien.
  4. Distrust in game companies. Many long-term players have become distrustful of Turbine because of not keeping their promises. With the introduction of F2P, players where soothed from their fears by being promised they wouldn't introduce so called "pay to win" (P2W) items. They took this back, and introduced items that give you clear advantages in PvP areas. There's also a history of enthusiastically announcing new things, which afterwards turn out to be only available by paying separately for them when they were implemented (the sixth bag and, again, the barter wallet come to mind). This feels like misleading. It's not fun to pay a company you dislike, and many old time players I know have left because of it.

 Comic of Dilbert, by Scott Adams.

Don't get me wrong, F2P was probably a good thing for LotRO. Without it, it might very well not exist anymore. During the time of the Mirkwood expansion very little people were around, and logging in would really give you the feeling of a dying game. There wasn't that much new content and people were generally disappointed and left the game. It was getting quiet, very quiet. F2P brought an influx to the game that made it thriving again. However, all the marketing of the LotRO store makes me feel sad. It doesn't fit with Tolkien's world at all. I just want to play my elf again, wandering through the woods without being interrupted by some sort of store advertisement every so-many minutes.

Free-to-play in SWTOR
SWTOR still has all options open: F2P could turn out to be great. I'm sure the game will get an influx of players, a boost that could help the game a lot. So far, it looks like they give subscribers full access and F2P'ers limited, which is the common solution that works well. I hope they won't place many attention calling advertisements everywhere, but I suppose they might need that to get money flowing. If they do, I can only hope they will give subscribers a break from it. That would be a great quality of life improvement.

The only reason I still play LotRO is because it has a great community, because the content is good and because I'm a huge Tolkien fan. If SWTOR goes down the LotRO F2P road, I might not have the same patience.

That said, SWTOR now has the opportunity to "do it right", and I genuinely hope they will.