Monday, November 21, 2022

Before The Shadow - Very First Impressions - or - How To Calm An Anxious Chicken

After lunch on a cool, wet Monday, with the rain hammering down outside and little prospect of anything very much different to look at through the window over the next few days, feeling at somewhat of a loose end, I decided to to pull the trigger on Before The Shadow, the latest mini-expansion for Lord of the Rings Online. I've been holding off buying things on impulse, what with Black Friday right around the corner, but any heavy discounting seems improbable for such a new release, so why not?

Buying the thing was  seamless. Log in, press button, get receipt. Less than thirty seconds. There's not even a code to enter. It's all handled automatically. In theory I could have been sampling the new content within a minute or two. In theory...

In reality, there's the infamous LotRO patcher to consider. I'd already fired it up about ten minutes before I decided to buy the expansion and as I write this it's been running for the best part of twenty minutes, which means it's about halfway through downloading over seven and a half thousand files. I hope it's the advertised two new zones although I'd be entirely unsurprised to find those need to be delivered in a separate, follow-up patch.

I've been waiting so long now, in fact, the promised end to the current downpour has arrived. The rain has stopped, the clouds are clearing and the sun is beginning to peer out. Beryl the dog has been waiting patiently all day so I'm going to have to postpone this to take her for her much-delayed walk.

Back in an hour. With luck, the damn thing might even have finished patching by then.

... Aaaaand we're back. In fact, we've been back for a couple of hours. Long enough to make a new character and get them to Level 5. I guess we could do a First Impressions on the new starting zone and tutorial, if we were in the mood. We could also stop talking in the second person plural. It's not like Beryl's co-authoring this post with me.

I ummed and ahhed for a minute or two over whether to make the new character on my usual server, the EU-RP-EN server, Laurelin (That's Europe-Roleplaying-English, btw.) or on the ever-popular US-RE server, Landroval. As I was thinking about it, I realised I didn't really know the difference betweeen "RP" and "RE", so I looked it up . It didn't help much:

 "The servers with the 'RP' sign are servers that have a player base dedicated to role-playing, while 'RE' means that the server in question encourages role-playing but that it's exercised by all of the server's population."

Come again? Is there a negative missing in the second sentence, maybe?

Anyway, I don't plan on talking to anyone so the point is moot. In the end I settled for the familiar and went with Laurelin. I had seven available character slots but only four characters so adding another wasn't a problem. Choosing a race and class was a bit harder.

I ruled out Men, Elves and Dwarves because I already have one of each. I thought about Beornings but they have their own starting area so that didn't make sense. I looked at the Stout-Axe Dwarves but they seemed to have a complicated back-story I didn't want to get into. I actually didn't even notice there was a second kind of elf, High, so that one didn't even get a look-in.

In the end I went with Hobbit for a couple of reasons. First, even though I do have a Hobbit character already, they've never really been played. I can't even remember what class or gender they are. Second, as I understand it, much of the new levelling experience takes place in hobbit-inhabited (I almost said "infested"...) lands so it seemed like a good fit.

For a class, I wanted something I hadn't already played but also something that was going to be as straightforward as possible. I'd heard Captain was easy-mode so I was planning on trying that but it turns out Hobbits can't be Captains. I have no idea why. Maybe the boots are too small?

Instead, after looking at all the options, I went with Champion. It looked pretty similar to EverQuest II's Berserker and I already know how to play one of those; pull everything and spin.

I picked one of my regular placeholder names and hit Randomize until I got a look I thought I could live with. Let's be honest - there are no good-looking Hobbits. Then I clicked on the button and entered the world.

The first thing that happened was my bags filled up with stuff. FFS! That's what I started a new character specifically to avoid! There was enough to put two of my five bags out of action, although for some arcane reason the game distributed the items across three of them. Most of the things were themselves containers of some kind. I didn't dare open any of them in case the contents that spilled out took up the rest of the available space.

Instead, I just took a brief inventory, noting I already had half a dozen Titles and a couple of mounts before I'd even started, then I got on with following the tutorial and doing what I was told. Ninety minutes or so later, allowing for a couple of dog-related interruptions, I was Level 5 with several quests waiting to take me on to the next village over the hill.

I'm not going to review the whole Tutorial as if this was some brand new game no-one's played before. It's LotRO. Everyone who cares to know what it's like has played it already, a few times most likely. The new starting area, at least the first five levels of it, feels pretty much exactly as I remember the old ones...

...except I'm thinking of the really old ones, not the most recent "old" one, because as I found out when I was making my character there are now three Tutorials you can choose from and even the one before the Before The Shadow one is called "the new user tutorial" - although now I come to think about it, maybe the "new" refers to the user, not the tutorial...

Ahem. Anyhoo... 

The BTS tutorial (Just don't, alright?) starts off with what I imagine is supposed to be a bang, when some orcs (Uruk-Hai to be exact.) invade the sleepy country town of... hang on, I've already forgotten what it's called... Mossside? No, Mossward, that's it. (Had to look it up.) 

I say orcs. There are some orcs. Eventually. First of all, though, there are goblins. Okay, a goblin. I realise it's a tutorial but running down the street, sword in hand to find nothing more threatening than one rather small goblin did strike me as a bit of an anti-climax. (You did remember to "equip" your sword, didn't you? I mean, two separate NPCs did take the time and trouble to explain how important that was and how embarassing it would be if you forgot.)

The other thing that struck me as soon as the fighting started was how very elderly the game feels now. Even more so than other mmorpgs of its era. Combat in LotRO was always ponderous but in comparison to what we expect from just about every game these days it barely feels like combat at all. I couldn't really tell by looking what my character was doing. She barely seemed to be moving most of the time. 

She must have been doing something because the goblin died. Then some more goblins died. Then some orcs. There was a ranger who talked about knowing Strider and a Dwarf who repaired my weapons before they'd even been used and a very, very annoying child who made off with the orc leader's sword and had to be cajoled into giving it back and a guard who seemed really keen to give me a personal insight into the super-boring details of the everyday life of a guard and even a farmer who wanted me to calm an anxious chicken, which seemed like a step too far but then turned out to be kind of an in-joke and...

Oh, I don't know. It all trucks along very much like the Shire. I get the distinct impression someone's taken on board all those positive things people have been saying about how cosy the Shire is and how much people like carrying pies and decided to lean into the vibe. Which is fine. I like the Shire, too.

And that's where I left things to come and write this post. I had to drag myself away. This sort of thing is like settling into a deep, warm, comfortable armchair in front of a glowing fire on a winter's day. You're barely awake but you feel revived, somehow. 

I looked at the map and the new area seems pretty large. Supposedly you can level to 32 there. At LotRO's levelling speed that's going to take quite a while. I've only ever levelled one character further than that so there's no guarantee I'll even make it out of the starting zone. 

On the evidence so far it should be fun trying. I'm very happy with my purchase. Now if I can just find a bank so I can get all these anniversary fireworks out of my bags...


  1. Level 32 . . . but of an odd cut off. From there you could head straight to either the Trollshaws or Evindim, both of which used to be about a month out (at least) for a new character. Trollshaws starts at 35, but the game is so easy now no level 32 character will have any trouble there. Evindim starts at 30, but leads right into Foroschel which remains one of the most unique zones in the game.

    I have really been meaning to get back into LoTRO. The last time I was playing I made it up to the 90s and was on the outskirts of Gondor. It is a heck lot of fun if you don't mind some clunkiness. The character models and combat were never exceptional, and have not ever gotten better with age. However that's not why you play LoTRO (or EQ, or SWG or any number of older MMOs) in the first place.

    1. Most of my time in LotRO has been spent as a Guardian, which I belatdly came to realise was a very poor choice. It's incredibly slow and static. I really ought to stick with the casters, which seem comparatively fluid, but I'm hoping the Champion will have at least a little of the kinetic thrill of berserkers in other games. Not seeing yet, though.

      Visually, LotRO is a very strange game for its age. The character models and animations are archaic but the scenery is frequently stunning. It's held up incredibly well in that regard and the new starter zone looks gorgeous. I never knew there were so many flowers in Middle Earth. It's like a botanical garden!

    2. Agreed on the landscapes. Still absolutely amazing.

  2. Yet another title I tried and tried to get into, but just couldn't. Kinda like GW2. My old posts around it was the struggle that I couldn't play the class I really wanted to without hoops, but when I finally pulled that trigger it just wasn't the right fit. Or the right fit at that time.

    1. Maybe this would be a good opportunity to try again? Although honestly I doubt it would feel any different. Still, you never know when something is going to click...


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