When Riders of Rohan went live on Monday, I couldn't wait to fire up the Lord of the Rings Online and play. I had put hours and hours into beta in the name of research for Our Review of the expansion, and I was very pleased with the changes and new stuff. Couldn't wait to try them "for real" on my characters on live.
Before the expansion went live, I did some preparation work. I whipped up a bunch of crafting guild rep items, two full batches for each of my guilded crafters. I made plenty of consumables with my Scholar. I spent a couple of hours earning Lothlorien silver branches. Then the servers went down for the patch, and it was a waiting game.
Day One: Launch Day
LotRO servers came back up at noon, and lots of players were able to get patched up and logged in by 12:15. Some of us took much longer to patch - I started patching bright and early in the morning, and didn't finish until late in the evening. Rural internet connections are awesome.
Unfortunately, launch day was tarnished by some rather nasty glitches. Launcher errors prevented many players from entering the game at all, and a lingering memory error caused the game to crash repeatedly for some others who did manage to get in. These errors are severe and consistent enough that Turbine put together a hotfix for Wednesday morning.
For those of us who could get in and play without the errors - and I don't mean to rub salt in any wounds here - Riders of Rohan is pretty badass. My Hobbit Hunter, Gunkydoc, started out in Caras Galadhon, where I had earned enough silver branches to be able to afford the new Hunter skill, Guide to Caras Galadhon. It's one of the smaller updates to LotRO, but it's definitely about time we finally got a port to Lothlorien. I also got the new travel skill to Hrimbarg in the Misty Mountains, though this one is less important.
I decided I wanted to get a war-steed fast, so I entered Rohan via the bridge at the southern edge of the Great River area rather than following the epic books. The epics also earn you a war-steed, but it takes a book and a half to do it, and I didn't feel like climbing all over Caras Galadhon. I got my war-steed within about 2 hours, and encountered my new favorite enemy: the Wold Draug.
These guys are located in a cave across the swamp from Langhold. They start out normal-sized, but they get bigger and bigger throughout the fight as they keep taking damage. When they finally die, they swell up and burst in a green goo-splosion. The Draugar are named like Skyrim monsters and look like Deadites from the Evil Dead movies. Awesome.
By the time I had finished getting my war-steed, a friend of mine, Khaurin Quickbow, announced on glff that he had already reached level 85. It took him 10 hours, 54 minutes, and when he reached 85 he was still wearing pretty much all of his level 75 raid gear. I have a theory about how he did it this fast, based on what he told me after he did nearly the same thing in Rise of Isengard:
- Pre-launch, he would have loaded up on quests - repeatables, region quests from the Great River area, whatever he could find - and completed them all without turning anything in.
- He would have bought the Enhanced XP Destiny Perk, plus the store equivalent. I have a bunch of those myself that I won in lotteries, etc.
- On launch day, he turns in every completed quest in his log.
- Then he heads to Rohan and tears through the region quests, probably with a group. It's unlikely that he did the epic quests at the same time - they are slower paced and he would have gotten more XP from killing mobs.
Khaurin's kind of bloody-minded blind rush to level cap is not going to be for everyone. There's a lot to experience along the way, and taking the occasional pause to absorb the fantastic scenery, listen to the epic score or read the quest dialogue makes the game a lot more enjoyable for some. For Khaurin, who is a raid-leader type, the accomplishment is a rush, and he now has time to take in everything at his leisure, while still being in good form for the new endgame and leading his troops to success.
Once I got my war-steed, I wanted to tackle some war bands with my kinsmen. I'd been greatly looking forward to that since beta testing, and it was pretty much exactly what I had hoped it would be. We did a sweep of all the war bands in the Wold, charging from one to the next and watching for respawns when we got to a location too late to join in.
This is one of the reasons the new Open Tapping system is great. If we arrived at a war band location to find another group already engaged with it, we didn't have to just sit around like a bunch of dummies and queue up for the next repop. We could get in there, tag the leader, help take out the adds and make a meaningful contribution, and gain all the benefits of taking the boss down as if we had been there from the start. For this reason, Rohan feels a lot more co-operative than other areas.
Of course, no launch would be complete without launch-day bugs. The Monday bugs called for a Wednesday hotfix to patch up some memory errors, but some lingering glitches yet persist. Players are being told that the vendors in their housing instances are "restricted areas" and being shuttled out. Some players are experiencing issues with the chat servers, or the willfully-persistent lag spikes that have been problematic for a while now.
Lag is especially problematic when dealing with mounted combat. I typically run at fairly high network latency normally, and when I get slow days the latency spikes up to 400 - 700+ milliseconds. In other words, it takes around half a second for a mouse click or twitch to have an effect in game. For most stuff, this isn't a big deal. I can make compensations with my mouse clicking while fighting, and most fights aren't live-or-die competitions where half a second makes the difference. Even normal riding is usually fine. I can swerve or jump in time to avoid obstacles, and I can even win festival races with latency that high.
But mounted combat is a horse of a different color. It is far more sensitive to lag of any kind because the system makes a lot of calculations all the time. Speed and Fury meters are variable, and steering requires complex math equations that must be performed with every micro-adjustment you make to your trajectory. Lag of any kind - graphical lag, server lag, network latency lag - causes strange, elastic stuttering in the war-steed's movement. It's not quite the same thing as "rubber-banding," where the running character bounces back and forth between two spots over and over. It's more like the camera keeps switching back and forth from high speed to low speed. The horse will slow down, then flash forward, then slow way down again. This isn't a huge issue at lower speeds, but in a top-speed cross-country charge, or during a long fight against a powerful war band, high latency can make mounted combat nearly unusable. You have no clear idea where your rider is on the map or in relation to your enemies.
Fixing lag can be pretty simple. If it's the graphics that are stumping you, open up your Advanced Graphics options and disable Frill Distance and Distant Imposters. These two items alone should improve mounted combat performance if you find your framerates are suffering. In the case of network latency, which can have a much more profound impact on performance, try turning off all background programs and applications that use up your bandwidth. Internet browsers, media streams, torrent clients and other such bandwidth hogs can ramp up your latency, even if they are running on other computers sharing your connection. Turning these off on my game rig and my laptop made a significant change to my game's performance, changing mounted combat from an unplayable mess to the exhilarating thrill-ride it's supposed to be.
Because of this lag-sensitivity, however, there are a lot of situations where the old-style standard mounts are a better choice. Riding through town, for example, can be a choppy obstacle course nightmare on a war-steed, even at lower speeds. And if you experience high network latency (over 100 ms or so) on a regular basis, a standard mount might be a better choice for cross-country travel. So don't pull those premium goats and class steeds off your skill bar just yet.
Day 2: Epics
On day 2, I focused mostly on the epic story. For a lot of people, this is the preferred introduction to Rohan because it's the continuation of the story that we have been waiting for since the Great River update.
Book 7 - the first of three that come with this update - focuses on the breakup of the Fellowship of the Ring. The story picks back up at Caras Galadhon with the Dunlending warrior-woman Nona, the elf Corudan, and Horn the Rohirrim, and follows a breadcrumb trail to Nen Harn to discover the fate of Frodo and his crew. Through session play, we see the dissolution of the Fellowship through different perspectives.
As Frodo, we get an intimate look at his decision to part ways with the Fellowship. He reflects on the counsel of the wise as he wanders aimlessly, until he meets up with Boromir, who illustrates the corrupting influence of the ring in a very personal way. The cool thing about this session is that you actually get to put on the One Ring (by means of a skill) to escape.
The next sessions involve Boromir, and we are given a glimpse into the thought processes that drive him to madness. We also get a glimpse at his opinion of his traveling companions:
But don't worry! In the next play session, he heroically defends The Halfling and The Other Halfling to his dying breath. In the last of these epic sessions, you play as Samwise, who has but one skill, which he uses to determine that Frodo would make a bee-line for the boats.
The other thing I decided to do was to use some of the store-bought XP enhancers to accelerate my trip to level cap. For 600 TP, you get five 100% XP Boost (1hr) buffs, which doubles the amount of XP you earn from kills and from quests. If you're working on fast leveling, this is almost like cheating, especially if it's paired with blue-bar enhanced XP. I burned through a level in about an hour and a half with this setup.