Friday, July 13, 2007

LOTRO – Monster Play

Last weekend Serena and I posted a rather unusual screenshot of our “ugly” characters. These characters form part of an interesting and very addictive part of LOTRO, called Monster Play.
Whilst you can Dual with other players, there is no true Player v Player combat (PvP) in LOTRO as all player characters are “Good”. However to make Levels 45-50 a bit more challenging for players, the monsters in the “Ettenmoors” zone include some controlled by players.

You can play as a Wolf, Spider, Orc, Uruk War Leader or Uruk Archer and you automatically start at Level 50! You need no equipment beyond food and potions (which you have to buy or quest for), and you start out classed as a “swarm” level character – i.e. weaker than a regular level 50 monster, giving heroes a bit of a chance! As a monster you get bullied from pillar to post by the local Elite bad guys and by completing quests (such as clearing out some pesky hobbit farmers) you earn destiny point (sort of like XP and money combined) which you can spend on improving your character. You can improve your combat abilities or improve your looks! i.e. All swarm level Orcs look the same (they just have different names – chosen by you), but if you spend destiny points you can change your physique, armour appearance etc (none of which makes you any harder to kill). If you choose to spend your destiny points on improving your skills you will slowly move from “swarm” to “normal” and finally to “signature” (a lower class of elite monster) and your icons will change colour accordingly (the game colour codes monsters based on how tough they are).

Your Monster character (you can have 5 per server – one of each type) keeps its skills from session to session, so if you choose to just play your Orc, you have the potential to produce a very nasty signature monster for hunting Elves and the other Free Peoples.
Here is a brief run down of how our first Monster play session ran.

Starting out in the roughest looking log fort you have ever seen and surrounded by trolls and some really angry Uruk leaders (like the War Tyrant in the pictured) we are quickly roped into food gathering – slug meat! After dispatching some particularly huge slugs we are then sent off on some scouting missions (designed to make you explore the map) which once completed grants you the ability to fast travel back to the starting fort and the “Servant of Angmar” title. You have to start that quest from scratch if you die though – failure is not an option! This makes it challenging as you have the potential to die a lot early on, especially if jumped by a Fellowship of level 50 players.

Next was a few quick missions to poison the local river, in an attempt to drive out the local hobbit farmers (they are the toughest farmers I have ever seen!) and gathering stones from troll statues (caused when the trolls got caught in the sun) to help reinforce the various forts.
Whilst doing the latter, we came across two men (players) and we ran away like girls whilst shouting for reinforcements! Reinforcements arrived and now grouped up with a Spider, a Wolf and a second Orc and War Leader, the men sensibly fled from us on their four foots (horses).
We decided there was strength in numbers, so we cleared out a pesky Free People guard post (collecting Elf Ears and Dwarf Feet trophies for our superiors) before moving on to the Elven lumber camp. There we managed to surprise a mixed group of men and elves and I killed my first Elf hunter (1st kill towards improving my PvP rank – which appears military style before your name). The rest fled. We pursued and I slowly closed in on a pesky dwarf minstrel as he ran before me. Suddenly he tripped on a bush and I was on him… A quick “hamstring” and he could only limp, but continued to retreat as I reigned down blows on him… Then I was very suddenly dead!!! The dwarf had managed to retreat back to the safety of an Elf town and the local guards had turned me into a pin cushion! To make matters worse I never even spotted one! Damn those Elf scum!

With no more players to hunt we decided that more direct action was needed, so we invaded the local hobbit village and did a bit of pillaging (no rape though – their sheep were too ugly!).
Having clocked up 2,000 destiny points we decided to go back to hand in our trophies. The first four skills are 500 points each at tier 1, so Uthak and Athalak both trained up in all four, ready for their next session! We are now better armoured and better armed (but disappointingly still classed as swarm).

What surprised me the most about Monster play was how much fun it was being bad (or rather how much fun Serena had being bad!). Because you die a lot you don’t get the same emotional attachment for your character and you actually have a small inner cheer when you are killed by a “good” player. However the inner cheer became a roar when I nailed the Elf! I even laughed when I was massacred by the Elven guards, as it felt completely right! It all comes back to the atmosphere of the game being well balanced!

There are a few other things to note:
Your destiny points are global, so if you spend a while earning loads, you can create a new monster and spend them on him straight away. You can also spend destiny points on your normal player character, but they only give temporary improvements (such as helping you run faster or gain bonus XP). Some player character quests and achievements also grant a destiny point rewards which you can use on your monsters!

Finally, there is one more twist in the pipeline for LOTRO called “session play”.
The idea behind session play is for those times when you want to do something completely different. You will get given a “character” that will disappear when you log out and that character will have a mission. Completing the mission will grant destiny points for your pool and possibly unique items for your other characters to use (to be decided).
The main difference though is what those characters are… For example, you may be a Chicken! The mind boggles!

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