Postcards from Moria

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that despite having played LOTRO on and off for a decade-ish, I’ve never actually made it to the other side of Moria. Until last year, I’d never even made it to the first side. And I’m still, technically, NOT done – various quests keep sending me back, much to my dismay – but as of last month, I officially broke through to the other side. This felt like such a milestone to me that I decided to share a few thoughts and snapshots of my journey through Khazad-Dum.

I lingered in Eregion for as long as I could. My chronic Elf obsession reared its head and kept me in the region, grinding out deeds I normally wouldn’t bother with and taking screenshots of poetic, spooky sunsets. The memory of the once-great Elven civilization permeates the ruins of the zone, and I was particularly charmed by the quests that let you follow in the Fellowship’s footsteps, tracing their exact trajectory from Rivendell to Moria. The quests that flashed you back to the rise of Durin’s Bane as well as the encounter with the Watcher in the Water were both equally exciting. While I ADORE the Shadows of Angmar zones in the game and all the satellite lore they’ve fleshed out in some of those areas, there’s something thrilling about being more closely involved in the actual meat of the stories. I was hype.

I was not hype, however, to spend what I assumed would be a dark, dank, dragging amount of time underground. I’d heard Moria could be a bit of a slog, and while I did weary of not seeing the sky occasionally, I was overall very pleasantly surprised by how much I actually enjoyed this region. This adaptation of Moria is perhaps my favorite that I’ve ever seen; it certainly outstrips Jackson’s monochrome caverns in terms of variety and creativity in truly building out what the might and glory of Moria could have been. Just as in Eregion, I got a strong sense of what the dwarves had envisioned for their civilization, and I enjoyed exploring the diverse regions and admiring their craftmanship.

The attention to detail in Moria was not lost on me. The lore that imbued Eregion followed me into Moria, and I loved marking off the expected landmarks on my map – the Chamber of Mazarbul, the Bridge of Khazad-Dum, etc. But then there were plenty of touches I didn’t expect to see along the way, such as the other half of the bridge where it had fallen far below in the Foundations of Stone, and my personal favorite, the remains of the Balrog out on the mountaintop. I was pretty gleeful when I found his corpse. I felt like I was walking around in a myth that’s been told to me a thousand times. Very, very cool.

All in all, things went a lot faster in Moria than I expected, though it might be partially because I’m playing so long after its release. There were plenty of quests and instance clusters that I blew past, so it might have felt different when it was current content. And I will admit that I am irked by how often I’ve been sent back after I reached open air for the first time. It’s not exactly an easy journey!

The area around Lothlorien proper has an ominous energy to it, which I love. It hints at the dangers and adventures to come on this side of the Misty Mountains. I’m really looking forward to what the rest of the map has to offer, and I know that it’s huge. I’m not in a rush to leave Lothlorien yet, but it seems like the story will transition me smoothly from this zone to Mirkwood. I like knowing where I’m supposed to go next without feeling like I have so many choices that I’ll have to miss out on something no matter what. We will deal with the shadow coming from Dol Guldur next – but for now, I’ll be romping in the golden leaves.

Old Haunts: There and Back Again to LOTRO

Recently I wrote about my more or less triumphant return to The Elder Scrolls Online, a game which I dearly love and continue to play. I lauded its suitability for the roleplayer-at-heart, its attention to detail and endless lore. Which makes it all the more ironic that, this past week, I turned back to my first love seeking what I really, truly want out of an MMORPG: a solid RP community.

I’m not taking back what I said about ESO, and I might come back in a month or two and sing an entirely different tune, but the fact of the matter is that since I’ve been a regular in Tamriel again, I’ve been unable to find a group or guild that I really click with for RP. And it’s not for lack of trying – I spend every dull moment at work browsing the official forums, Reddit, Discord hubs, anywhere that the perfect guild advertisement could catch my eye. I’ve met some great people with great character development, but the consistency and the content I guess I’m looking for just hasn’t cropped up. In my experience so far, ESO feels very focused on one-to-one RP than group, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s not precisely what I’m looking for.

Long story short, my wandering gamer’s eye wandered over to LOTRO, not only because I have exceedingly fond memories of it from when I played it close to launch, but because it’s still spoken highly of on the internet for its roleplaying scene. I had a few toons on Landroval, the US “roleplay encouraged” server, so I decided to check it out. After a little poking around, I was told in no uncertain terms that if roleplaying was what I wanted, then Laurelin, the EU “roleplay enforced” server was where I needed to be.

Not to be discouraged, I rolled up a new toon on Laurelin and dove straight in, only to be rewarded immediately by World-chat advertisements of an annual Elven ball happening a few days later. The kinship leader encouraged me to attend, and so I took their advice, showing up fashionably (or not so fashionably) to the party in time to miss the dancing and festivities, but just in time to meet a couple friends and have an intimate chat by the fireside over wine and haunted elf-memories (the best kind).

Dear Reader, this is the first real, quality experience I’ve had in an MMORPG since before Battle for Azeroth launched on WoW and my guild scattered to the winds. Needless to say, I was enchanted. I immediately applied to the kinship hosting the ball – my application hasn’t gone through yet, but I’ll be sure to keep you updated – and went “home” with a warm, fuzzy feeling in my belly that was more than virtual wine.

While ESO certainly has the lore and the detail perfect for a roleplay scene, LOTRO was practically built for it. You can’t find a world richer than the one Tolkien spent decades building and that the devs spent years embellishing. The Middle-Earth of LOTRO feels truly lived in, loved, and well-equipped for roleplayers, from the music system to the housing. I am at once excited to have potentially found my community and deeply saddened that I missed this game in its RP heyday. It must have been amazing.

I’ll be sure to keep track of any further shenanigans I have in LOTRO (or elsewhere, of course) here, but for the time being, I’d better get back to leveling my character – Middle-Earth won’t save itself!

Where Do We Go from WoW?

On the precipice of new gaming adventures

Unless you live under a rock, and I’m guessing you don’t if you’re reading this extremely niche blog, you heard about the debacle with Blizzard the other week. If you didn’t, I’m not going to go into it; there are plenty of other outlets covering the ongoing PR and human rights catastrophe. Needless to say, the news of Blizzard’s behavior came as a great blow to me, followed by a dark night of the soul in which I eventually decided to join in solidarity and quit playing Blizzard games, at least for the time being. I pulled the plug on my WoW sub (RIP) and uninstalled the whole kit and caboodle, including Overwatch, from my Alienware.

Man, it hurt. I had just gotten back into the swing of things. I was energized. I was lovin’ Classic. I had a great guild and we were jiving. I didn’t know how to tell them I was coming back when there wasn’t a mention of the event in the Discord. So I just peaced out. After some melodramatic grieving (and whining to my mother, who I happened to be visiting at the time the news broke and who nodded politely as I explained) I realized that there was a way better framework to view my sudden gamelessness than just as a loss (though it was that, and a loss of confidence as well). I decided to see it as a way to check out other games I’d been ignoring or perhaps neglected since my renewed interest in WoW. After all, Blizzard isn’t the end-all be-all of gaming. Not even of the MMO genre. So I decided to dive into some hardcore research as to what game I should jump into next.

After a few days of bingeing Let’s Plays, combing Reddit, Googling “best MMORPGs for roleplaying,” etc, it came down to three major contenders: Guild Wars 2, ArcheAge Unchained, and Elder Scrolls Online. Two would be completely brand new ventures for me and the last would be a triumphant return. Guild Wars 2 was quickly crossed off the list after a tepid first few hours in the game. ArcheAge wasn’t out yet, and I had read far too much about its tumultuous history to trust it would have a smooth enough launch to justify me giving it a shot on the first day. That made my decision for me: I’d bide my time and keep an eye on ArcheAge while I tided myself over with ESO.

I honestly don’t know why I worried. When I said triumphant return, I meant it. It only took me a few days back in ESO to completely forget about WoW. I played ESO for a good year before I drifted away and now I’m quite baffled as to why I ever left. It’s such a smooth, immersive experience. I know there are plenty of critics of the game’s lack of overland difficulty, combat system, etc, but I’m really not too picky when it comes to that kind of stuff. As long as it’s not a headache to play, I can deal with it. It’s the storytelling, worldbuilding, character-developing side of the game that I’m absolutely in love with. The little details the devs have put into the world are so thoughtful and special; things you have to really look for to notice, like a letter left by an explorer describing the immense treasure they were about to find in a ruin, only to find a skeleton crushed by those same ruins nearby. For a roleplayer at heart, it’s a dream come true.

To the titular question, where do we go from WoW – well, it depends on what you want. I want a well-written story and lore I can get lost in. ESO fits the bill. If you’re a WoW refugee who is still stumbling to find their new game, ask yourself what exactly you most enjoy in an MMO and then find something that checks all those boxes. It goes without saying that if your list is a long one, you probably won’t find something that fulfills every wish. But you’ll probably find a pretty acceptable alternative, maybe even a really pleasurable one. I, for one, haven’t been such a happy gamer in a long time.

Keeping It Classic: My Experiences So Far

Well, it happened. I got sucked in. More than two weeks later and I still haven’t touched a game that doesn’t go by the name of World of Warcraft: Classic. I haven’t logged into retail a single time. I don’t know how long this is going to last, but for the time being, Classic has its claws hooked deep. It’s been an addiction and also somewhat of an oasis over the last few weeks, which have been chaotic between attending DragonCon to moving to a night in the emergency room. Logging in has the comfort level of putting on your favorite sweater or wrapping your hands around a warm cup of tea. It’s cozy. It’s soothing. It feels good.

And I didn’t even play vanilla. I can only imagine what the nostalgia trip is like right now for pre-Cata folks. It’s not the nostalgia that’s getting me; I obviously have no memories of playing WoW earlier than 2017. No, the quality that’s so enticing to me about Classic has nothing to do with personal association: it’s the people.

Of course there are the usual trolls, the Barrens-chatty memeing that feels more like clearing the throat of old, clogged phlegm than actual humor, and the vanilla elitists–but those flow by like cool water, barely felt and then gone. The majority of the people I’ve interacted with on Bloodsail Buccaneers (as a reminder, an RP-PVE server) have been excitable, friendly, and kind. Random people have given me free shit. They’ve helped me out on quests. They’ve stopped and given me advice that wasn’t snarky or tongue-in-cheek because they know not everyone playing Classic knows what it’s like. But most important of all, they’re *there*.

My experience so far of playing retail WoW has been a relatively solitary one. Yes, I actively sought out a guild and spent a decent amount of time socializing with them, but I had to go out of my way to meet up with them. Questing/leveling has been a somewhat lonely experience, though I don’t think I realized just how lonely until now. I’ve been stuck in Northrend for some time (due to my low amounts of play time and of course hiatus) and it’s rare I come across another player. Sure, city hubs are populated enough, but walking up to a stranger and trying to start a conversation or ask for help feels totally impenetrable. I’m way more introverted on retail, because I’m playing it more like a regular RPG, instead of an MMO. I feel leagues behind everyone else, since I started so late. I’m sure it’s a different story when it comes to BfA, but I’m just not there yet.

That’s not to say I won’t ever go back to retail. I’m sure I will, especially when a new expansion gets announced. But right now Classic is giving me something it feels like only it can give: a community. Not only that, a community that’s on the same page as me. We all started on the same day at the same time, queues notwithstanding. There are tons of people running around in the starter zones, at my level, willing to group, willing to chat and hang out. YMMV, but so far the vibe for me has been convivial and cooperative, two qualities I really love in an MMORPG (arguably two necessary qualities for a good one). I’ve just joined an RP guild and am excited to see how that scene continues to develop as the leveling frenzy evens out and people turn to other outlets of entertainment.

I’m going to do a more detailed post on my specific characters, but for now my main is a night elf hunter named Elentariel, and I’m around level 12, putzing around Darkshore. I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of the pet thing yet, but I’m working on it. I’m wearing some derpy green shorts that are the bane of my existence. And I’m loving it. I’ll be in Classic for a while yet, folks–hope to see you there!

The Advent of Classic WoW: My Two Cents

One of my favorite flavors is vanilla. Normally, I’d have to defend this choice from slanderers brandishing words like “boring” or “basic,” but in these heady summer days of late August 2019, vanilla is not only acceptable, it is desirable. And before anybody leaps to correct me, I know there’s a difference between vanilla World of Warcraft and WoW: Classic, but for someone who never tried the former, the latter should give me a pretty good idea of the taste.

Lo, the day is nearly upon us (and I mean nearly!): the hour of Classic approaches. Despite having entered onto the WoW scene during the tail end of Legion, I am not immune to the hype. In fact, I dig it. I love hype. I like getting excited about other people’s excitement, even if I don’t really have a stake in the subject. Which is what inspired me to drop my sub on ESO (for now) and resub to WoW this month.

It’s no secret that it’s been a tough year for the game, evidenced to me by the fact that when I logged back into the game for the first time in over a year, my guild and the night elf roleplay community that had once thrived on Moon Guard was little more than a ghost town. Nevertheless, there’s enough buzz around the game right now to draw me back in, so I’m sure that will be true for many other people as well. Personally, I won’t be swapping retail for Classic altogether. I don’t even know if I’m going to like it. Back when I used to stream WoW regularly, many of my friends in the Twitch community urged me to turn cloak and go vanilla, but the idea held little charm at the time. Now that there’s a dedicated movement surrounding classic, though, I’m willing to take the bait.

I’m hopeful about this release for a couple of reasons. First of all, I believe any kind of movement is good. It’s getting the juices flowing. Obviously, an active MMO is never going to be truly stagnant, but the general feeling of Battle for Azeroth has been a predominantly negative one, so shining a light elsewhere in the game can only help. It will breathe new life into the community which so desperately needs it. For myself, I’m hoping to find a dedicated RP scene in Classic; I’ll be playing on Bloodsail Buccaneers, the RP-PVE server, and I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to find like-minded night elves in the midst of an influx of people who are all on the same page at the same time. Having come into retail at a point where most people were at max level and there were very few people just getting started, I’ve never really felt like I was with the crowd, and jumping into Classic on day one will allow me to experience that. I think that’s pretty cool.

I also think that Classic will be a valuable learning experience for everyone involved, players and Blizzard team alike.Everyone who’s been yearning for days of Azeroth yore will finally be able to relive the past and see if it’s everything they remembered or if they’ve just had rose-colored glasses on this whole time. To me, it feels like an experiment: is Classic just a nostalgia trip, to come and go with the autumn, or does it represent something players are genuinely craving? Either way, Blizzard can learn something about its player base from this experiment, and should take the results as advice for how to approach the upcoming retail expansion potentially to be announced at BlizzCon.

The worst thing that can happen, at least from where I’m sitting, is that Classic will remain the darling of MMO players–and possibly the media–for a few months until the majority loses interest, the next big BfA patch drops, and we all return to our regularly scheduled programming. As an unseasoned WoW player, this seems likely to me, though others with different perspectives on the game may offer a different opinion. I’d love to hear what you think will happen in the comments–will the community love WoW: Classic or will they leave it? Or both? I’ll check back in once we’ve all gotten the chance to get our feet wet in game. See you on the other side.

The MMOs of Our Lives (My Life, Anyway)

I can’t promise that I’ll ever run out of MMO-related puns. I *can* promise, though, to tell you all about the MMOs that have figured into my life in some way or another. I’ll get to the list in a moment (it’s not a terribly long one), but I wanted to preface it with a quick story. I’ve been playing MMOs off and on for the better part of 12 years, and it took me until the year before last to realize that I was an MMORPG player. Like it or not, it’s my genre. Not that I don’t venture out and play something a little different once in a while (and we’ll talk about those exceptions too at some point), but this is apparently the kind of game that really butters my biscuit . . . and I didn’t even know it.

Hardly surprising, considering how much I love world-building, roleplaying, and character development (doing my own, I mean). But the realization was more of a slow dawning than a sudden piano falling from the sky. And I shall take you through that gradual sunrise now. Without further ado, I present to you: the MMORPGs I have played in my lifetime for more than a day, listed in chronological order.

  1. The Lord of the Rings Online
    I mentioned that this was my first MMO in my previous post, which also makes it the most nostalgic. The heyday of my LOTRO experience was several summers in high school, starting with the year after its launch, during which I played with utter devotion. Much to my dismay, the hype from the LOTR movies was dying down, and I was eager to sink my teeth into a new offering from the IP. I quickly became enthralled by the game’s Tolkienian spirit, its faithful and creative adaptations of the lore, and most of all, the soundtrack, which I still can’t listen to without seeing heart-eye emojis everywhere. Unfamiliar with the MMORPG style, I played the game entirely alone, which I believe was my downfall. I struggled to keep up with the game during college, but I found it increasingly difficult to progress, and ground to a halt in the Misty Mountains, a region I found much more tedious and less inspiring than the hills of the Shire or the beautifully imagined valley of Rivendell. Since then, I’ve tried and failed once or twice to reenter the game, including when Mordor was released, but the gameplay and the mechanics are always a barrier to me. Nevertheless, this game will always number among my favorites.

  2. World of Warcraft
    Looking back, it’s almost shocking to me that I came to this game as late as I did. I adored Warcraft 3, which I first watched my brother play before I begged him to let me try. He eventually gifted it to me, and I played it over and over, going as far as to write Night Elf fanfiction. And yet, WoW eluded me. Once LOTRO came into the picture, it didn’t stand a chance. Better late than never, though–two years ago, I watched this Hearthstone-themed one-shot by Critical Role and remembered how much I’d enjoyed Warcraft. I began to binge-watch lore videos on Youtube until eventually I could take it no more: I downloaded the trial for World of Warcraft. It was just a trial, I told myself. I could make as many characters I wanted and level them to 20. Famous last words! I got way too attached to my Night Elf priest and instantly bought the game. I played for about a year, getting deeply involved in the roleplay scene on Moonguard (not THAT kind of RP) before my interest fizzled and I let my sub lapse. Recently, however, I’ve been thinking about coming back to the game, and I actually just resubscribed and jumped in yesterday. I know BfA isn’t a popular expansion, but I’m lightyears away from getting to that content anyway, so I’ll just enjoy the ride for as long as my attention span will let me.

  3. The Elder Scrolls Online
    This was the game that made me realize I wasn’t just a gamer, I was an MMO player. I’d played the shit out of Skyrim, and bonded with one of my old roommates over our shared love of TES lore. He was an avid player of ESO at the time (years ago, before One Tamriel hit), and wanted me to play with him so badly that he actually bought the game for me. I played for maybe an hour, reeled at how different the experience was from Skyrim, and set it aside, not to return to it for years. It wasn’t until I decided my WoW sub wasn’t worth the money for how much dust it was gathering that I decided to give it a second try. I was stunned by what I discovered. ESO hardly feels like your typical MMO experience; it feels much more like a single-player game with MMO elements, at least in my opinion. And I love it. ESO was the first game I’d ever experienced finding a guild I felt like I really belonged to; I got the in-jokes, I made friends, I even met one of my guildies in person! ESO truly delivers on everything I want in a game: a captivating world, solid storylines, solo-friendly gameplay, and camaraderie. I’m taking a short break from it right now (again, attention span) but I’ve no doubt I’ll be back soon.

  4. Neverwinter
    I picked Neverwinter up on a whim. PS4 was flashing it in my face as F2P, and I thought it might be fun to have an MMO option on the console, so I obliged. I wonder if I would feel differently about this game if I had played it on PC, because it seems a little bit cumbersome in comparison to the others in this list (though I’m sure there are those who would call LOTRO cumbersome, and they may well be correct). I definitely don’t enjoy playing on console as much as I do on PC, so this will probably be the last time I download an MMO onto my PS4. That being said, I enjoy the game a surprising amount. As a D&D fan, I love the character sheet, the lore, and the little touches here and there, like the D20 on the user interface. I’ve only played this game for about two months, on an ultra-ultra casual basis, so I’m far from an expert, but I’ll absolutely keep playing and enjoying it for now.

There. That’s the list. Not a very impressive one, now that I’ve got it all written down. I definitely haven’t hopped around MMORPGs nearly as much as a lot of the players I know. Now that I’m more of a connoisseur of the genre, I’m interested in testing the waters in other MMOcean (sorry not sorry). In my next post, we’ll be exploring my list of MMOs that I’d like to play in the future, but haven’t yet! Hope to see you there!

Character Creation: 8 Fun Facts About the Gamer Behind the Avatar

Every adventure starts in the same place.

The character creation screen.

So before I get sucked in by some side quest cleaning poisonous magic off of poor, unsuspecting squirrels, I thought I’d kick things off by introducing myself. My name’s Quill, or PrincessQuill, as I’m known on many places across the internet. I realize I’m not nearly as interesting as the characters I play in game, so I’ll keep this short and snappy, with eight fun facts that help illustrate my backstory before we dive into the good stuff.

  1. I love elves. This made the top of the list as sort of a full-disclosure gesture. I know some people in the fantasy gaming community have a bit of a grudge against elves, but I bear no such burden. Anytime I start a new game that has elves as a playable race, it’s a beeline for me. Bonus points given to elves who worship or honor the moon.
  2. I write books. Nothing’s been published yet, but I do have an agent and am pretty much always actively working on something. So far I’ve written two YA fantasy adventure novels, neither of which sold, and am currently working on a YA fantasy romcom (featuring a heist!). I have never written a book with elves in it, though I constantly wonder if I could make it work.
  3. I’m currently a graduate student. I received my undergraduate degree in music in 2014, and it’s taken me five years of deja vu-inspiring customer service jobs to jolt me back into academia. I’m getting my MS in Digital Audience Strategy, a degree I hope will help me pivot into a new career as a community manager or a digital strategist.
  4. I really, really like The Lord of the Rings. So it might surprise you to learn that I’m not active on LOTRO (though it was my first MMO). I’ll definitely be making some posts about the game, though, and would love to get back into it. Right now I’m working my way through The Fall of Gondolin (the book, for clarity’s sake).
  5. My personal health and wellness are important to me. I included this because it might come up on the blog (I strive to be as badass as my characters, and the comparison is often motivational for me). I’m a certified yoga teacher, but I also love many other forms of exercise, including aerial silks.
  6. I play D&D. To me, MMOs simply feel like a virtual version of the classic tabletop roleplaying game, and I enjoy either medium equally! Right now the only consistent campaign I’m playing with is actually not D&D proper, but a system called The One Ring. You guessed it: LOTR. But I’m also high-key obsessed with Critical Role. It’s the best fandom and you should come party with us.
  7. Video games are a source of healing and spirituality for me. This is another full-disclosure note, just in case these kinds of topics are uncomfortable for anyone. While I grew up Catholic, I’m no longer religious, but follow a peaceful pagan path, using the concepts and ideals that make sense to me. Video games, amongst other media, have contributed to these concepts, and I’ll likely write about how that has worked in my life and continues to work.
  8. I value diversity, inclusiveness, compassion, and love. Hatred, racism, sexism, bigotry of any kind will not be tolerated on this blog, my corner of the internet. I’m passionate about creating a safe space for everyone to come together in connection over their favorite subjects. If that doesn’t feel good to you, I wish you all the best and I’m sure you’ll find a blog that suits you better.

I think I’ve touched on all the most important points! Hopefully this helps you get a more holistic picture of the person behind the avatar(s). I’ll see you in the next post, where I’ll introduce the MMOs of my life so far!