Sunday, 13 August 2017

Introducing the Hunter: Level 1-20 (High Elf Edition)

Hunters are ranged archers, shooting their targets with bows from afar or using traps and decoys to control their opponents' position. They have melee weapons ready for close combat and a range of utility skills, including transporting themselves or a group to many important cities or camps throughout Middle Earth (see Travelling Around Middle Earth for more information). They are a strong DPS class with three interesting specialisations.

Here I'll record my experience levelling as a hunter from level 1 to 20, talking about skills and specs and anything else that may be useful to know. The High Elf starting experience is a little different from normal but once you complete the introduction the levelling should be similar between races.

Level 1 High Elf Hunter

Here's our brand new hunter and some basic information about her:
  • Hunters wear medium armour
  • Primary stat is Agility
  • The main weapon is a bow, but also dual-wield one-handed melee weapons such as daggers, swords, or axes.
  • Starting abilities are: Quick Shot (a ranged attack that generates focus), Penetrating Shot (a ranged attack that costs focus and bypasses enemy mitigations) and Blindside (a melee attack followed by a close-range ranged attack).

Focus is a key resource used by hunters. You build it up and then spend it on powerful attacks. At higher levels you will gain abilities that let you build it up quickly before or during battle. You could also gain bonus focus or reduce focus costs when using certain skills.

The high elf is initially scaled up to level 110 in the introduction in stats but not skills, and starts with a bow and a pair of daggers (one of the daggers is in your bags). When you return to Elrond's House, you are returned to level 1 stats. You receive a gift from Elrond which contains your old armour from the Second Age, some armour dyes, a housing decoration (a Radiant Basin), some basic food and some healing potions. You also gain the Milestone skill, automatically set to Celondim in Ered Luin, and the novice passive skill.

Arrival in Celondim, Ered Luin

The high elf is boosted to level 5 on arrival in Celondim. You also gain several skills:
  • Set Trap: place a trap at your feet that will deal damage and root enemies in place for 30 seconds, giving you time to get away.
  • Stance - Strength: this stance can be toggled on or off and increases your damage and critical chance. It also gives Quick Shot a slowing effect.
  • Barbed Arrow: a ranged attack that generates focus, causes a bleeding effect (damage over time) and slows enemies.

At level 6 you can choose a specialisation. Here are the different specialisations you can choose:
  • Blue = Huntsman - you can shoot while moving; you also gain Barrage (a ranged shot that costs focus and deals more damage each time it is used) and Scourging Blow (a melee attack that deals more damage if the enemy is bleeding from Barbed Arrow).
  • Red = Bowmaster - you can attack faster and have greater range; you also gain Pinning Shot which roots an enemy in place for 5 seconds.
  • Yellow = Trapper of Foes - you have many crowd control options and can cast traps while moving; you also gain Lingering Wound (an instant ranged attack that causes a bleed effect and stacks up to 4 times) and Decoy (an object that causes enemies to attack it instead of you).

I've played all the specs on various hunters and they're all good, with different playstyles. Blue offers great mobility and sustained damage, Red needs to stand still to shoot but has high burst damage, and Yellow has lots of crowd control and defensive buffs.

At level 7 you get your first trait point to spend in your chosen specialisation. You get additional trait points every odd level from now on, as well as from some quests and deeds.

At level 8 you gain the Focus skill which lets you fill up your Focus before combat so you can start with some strong attacks.

At level 10 you gain a couple of skills: Swift Bow, which generates 2 focus and hits hard, but has a long cast time (can be a useful opening skill, if the enemy doesn't know you're winding up a big shot), and Passage of Nature, which lets you track beasts (good for finding rare mobs or quest objectives). You are also now eligible to take part in Epic Battles such as Retaking Pelargir, but although you get scaled to level 100, without all the equipment slots filled and with limited abilities you will be very vulnerable, so it may not be a very successful or satisfactory experience.

You get a great skill at level 12: Find the Path. This is a toggled ability that gives you and your nearby fellowship members a run-speed buff when out of combat. You probably want this on all the time, so when you log in, change specs or get defeated you may need to turn it on again.

At level 14 you can Purge Poison (as well as wounds, disease and fear debuffs) from yourself.

By the time you get to level 15 you've probably got several quests sending you to Bree and Bree-land. At level 15 you get a quest in the mail suggesting you should visit a hunter trainer. The hunter trainer urges you to seek out Gytha Lainey at Adso's Camp in Bree-land who needs you to track down a wolf in the Old Forest.

Track down and defeat Yellowfang in the Old Forest

On completing the quest, you receive a furry helmet and the title "Swift Arrow".

At level 15 you also gain some passive abilities, namely that you can now wield clubs, hammers and maces, and you can also use Hand-wrought Traps (except these weaponsmith recipes and items are obsolete and no longer in the game).

I had been levelling as Yellow, but I switched to Red. At the Brigand's Watch camp in Bree-land, it seemed almost unfair that I could stand there, fill up my focus bar and then one-shot three of the brigands as fast as I could cast Penetrating Shot three times. They didn't even have time to warn their friends standing right next to them.

The Precision stance becomes available at level 16. With this stance toggled on, you gain some focus every 5 seconds, a brief finesse buff upon activation and Quick Shot has an increased critical strike chance.

At level 18 you get an AOE melee attack, Low Cut, which also slows enemies. I still had quests to do in Vale of Andrath and Adso's Camp, but I decided to head to the Barrow-downs because the rewards are better and I knew I would reach level 20 quickly there.

Usually there are racial deeds to be completed before gaining racial trait skills, but at level 19 I automatically got the High Elf skill Wrath of the Firstborn which, when slotted, gives you and your fellowship a 5% damage boost for 10 seconds on a 10 minute cooldown.

At level 20 you gain several skills which aid survival. Cry of the Hunter dazes and slows nearby mobs and gives you a morale "bubble" which absorbs damage and a speed boost to help you get away. You also get Desperate Flight which lets you travel instantly to the nearest rally point, on a 30 minute cooldown. Then there are also some new passive abilities: you can use Fire-oil when causes some of your shots to do extra fire damage to mobs. Fire-oil can be made by scholars or bought from Hunter Trainers. You can also use spears now.

Great view of Bree from the Dead-man's Perch
I went to the skirmish camp to upgrade any gear I could and found that skirmish gear is invisible on High Elves, at least in the character window. Fortunately I still had cosmetic armour showing or that might be embarrassing!

Here's how my hunter looks at level 20 now:

Level 20 High Elf Hunter (with invisible skirmish armour)

I then went to the training dummies in the Training Hall in Bree and found several other people using the dummies so I did the skirmish training and Siege of Gondamon instead. It was quite easy picking enemies off as they approached, but when I was casting Focus before the next wave of mobs arrived, the channelling would get interrupted if my skirmish soldier started combat.

I returned to the Training Hall and tested each spec's unbuffed DPS over 3 minutes (or until power runs out), and took a screenshot at the end to eliminate the effects of DoTs that kept going after I stopped attacking. For virtues, I had one tier of Compassion and three tiers of Charity active. With my 7 trait points, I focused on damage-boosting traits where possible.

Here are my DPS results (collected with CombatAnalysis plugin):

StatisticsHuntsman
(Blue)
Bowmaster
(Red)
Trapper of Foes
(Yellow)
Damage364663856532179
Time3 m 0.3 s3 m 0.8 s3 m 0.4 s
Average DPS202.2213.4178.3
Minimum Hit353334
Average Hit219206191
Maximum Hit206113171317
Attacks166187168
Critical Strikes (%)41 (24.7%)40 (21.4%)27 (16.1%)
Skill Priorities
  1. Focus
  2. Barrage
  3. Quick Shot
  1. Focus
  2. Penetrating Shot
  3. Quick Shot
  1. Focus
  2. Penetrating Shot
  3. Quick Shot

For the test, I started in Strength Stance, filled the Focus bar, cast 3 Penetrating Shots and then went into building up focus with 3 Quick Shots then spending it on Penetrating Shot (or Barrage). A very simple rotation, but in normal combat you should consider all your skills and which is most useful for the situation.

I was surprised that I was able to keep fighting for the full 3 minutes without power issues (10-30% power remaining at the end), as many of the other classes run out sooner.

I also tried using Barbed Arrow every 10 seconds in the rotation to keep up the damage over time debuff, but DPS ended up being about 17% lower in Red spec, possibly because it has a longer cast time and deals less damage up front. Even in Yellow spec which has bonuses to damage over time early in the trait tree, it was still a DPS loss to use Barbed Arrow or Lingering Wound. This may change at higher levels (for example, with full traits and legendary item legacies, Barbed Arrow may do more damage than Quick Shot or Swift Bow).

For the Blue spec, I tried both Penetrating Shot and Barrage as the focus spender skill and the average DPS was very close (199.1 for Penetrating Shot, 202.2 for Barrage). Average hit damage were similar, but Barrage had much higher maximum hit damage. Barrage used slightly more power than Penetrating Shot but after 3 minutes, with Penetrating Shot there was still 29.9% power left and with Barrage there was still 24.9% power left.

General Observations


Hunters have a lot of utility from early in the game - speed buffs, slows, purges, defensive bubbles, crowd control, mob tracking. Plus, the simple rotation but lots of options and having both ranged and melee abilities - hunters can deal with almost anything. They are very easy to level.

Strength stance seems to be the best in general, but learn when to use Precision or Endurance (becomes available later) stances.

Be careful not to break crowd control by using AOE abilities like Rain of Thorns (becomes available later). Also be careful not to pull threat off the tank when in a group situation, although it may be helpful to pull threat off the healer.

Specialisations


Blue - Huntsman: With good mobility and good damage, this spec is popular in instances and groups, but also very suitable for soloing - for tough mobs, you can kite them if necessary. Overall, I think this is the best general-purpose spec for hunters and if you're not sure which spec to use, try Blue.

Red - Bowmaster: I see this spec as a marksman - carefully positioned, they are deadly at picking off targets from afar suddenly. For soloing or PvMP, they don't have as many escape options as Blue or Yellow, so positioning and assessing the situation ("Can I deal with this quickly?" Yes - give it everything, No - flee and fight them later under more favourable circumstances) are important. Overall, I think this spec may be situational or suit a specific play style.

Yellow - Trapper of Foes: This reminds me of the engineer class in Guild Wars 2 or the engineering profession in World of Warcraft - they've got a gadget for everything. It's a fun change in play style and still very effective as you use traps, tripwires, explosions, decoys and more to destroy your enemies. With some planning, you can create quite a minefield that will lock down a number of mobs so you can pick them off, but if something goes wrong, you get some defensive bonuses to help you survive their fury. Overall, I think this spec is better for solo play, PvMP or maybe group questing in landscape areas than instances.

Stats

  • Agility - your main stat that increases damage
  • Critical Strike - increases damage
  • Mitigations and Resistances - reduces damage taken
  • Morale and Vitality - bigger health pool increases survival

These stats should help make the levelling process a bit easier in the beginning. Look for medium armour or jewellery with agility and critical rating, morale or vitality. If a piece of gear has Fate on it, it will also increase your critical strike chance. The best place to get Mitigations and Resistances at low levels is probably from virtues.

For ranged weapons, you can use bows or crossbows, but bows tend to have more offensive stats and crossbows tend to be more defensive (better for tanking classes like guardians). For melee weapons, consider the stats and DPS, then what racial bonuses you get from using a specific weapon type (e.g. Men and Elves get a bonus with swords, while Dwarves get a bonus with axes).

Here are some virtues that may be helpful for hunters and how to get them by level 20:

VirtueActivityDeed
INNOCENCE
(physical mitigation, tactical mitigation, resistance)
Complete 75 quests in The ShireLife of a Bounder (Final)(The Shire)
TOLERANCE
(agility, tactical mitigation, in-combat morale regeneration)
Explore all the farms in The ShireFarms of the Shire
(The Shire)
COMPASSION
(physical mitigation, tactical mitigation, non-combat power regeneration)
Complete 15 quests in The Shire

Complete 20 quests in Ered Luin
Life of a Bounder
(The Shire)

Defender of Ered Luin (Ered Luin)
CHARITY
(physical mitigation, resistance, non-combat power regeneration)
Complete 10 quests in Ered Luin

Complete 30 quests in Ered Luin

Complete 30 quests in Bree-land
Ally of Ered Luin
(Ered Luin)

Hero of Ered Luin
(Ered Luin)

Bree-land Adventurer (Advanced)(Bree-land)
DETERMINATION
(agility, morale, in-combat morale regeneration)
Defeat 60 slugs in The Shire

Defeat 90 wolves in Ered Luin

Defeat 90 barghests in Bree-land
Slug Slayer (Advanced)
(The Shire)

Spider-slayer (Advanced)(Ered Luin)

Barghest-slayer (Advanced)(Bree-land)
ZEAL
(physical mitigation, morale, armour)
Defeat 90 goblins in Ered Luin

Defeat 90 spiders in Ered Luin

Defeat 90 Barrow-spiders in Bree-land
Goblin-slayer (Advanced)(Ered Luin)

Spider-slayer (Advanced)(Ered Luin)

Brood-hunter (Advanced)(Bree-land)
HONOUR
(tactical mitigation, resistance, vitality)
Defeat 60 spiders in The Shire

Defeat 90 spiders in Bree-land
Spider-slayer (Advanced)(The Shire)

Spider-slayer (Advanced)(Bree-land)

Pros of the Hunter Class

  • Good single-target damage
  • Utility includes tracking mobs, speed buffs, fast travel
  • Variety of playstyles
  • Good survivability (mobility, crowd control, self-healing, stealth, threat-dumps)

Cons of the Hunter Class

  • Limited defensive abilities

I hope this has been helpful. Feel free to leave any questions or advice for new hunters in the comments below.

Coming soon in the Introducing X Class series: the Lore-master.

    Saturday, 5 August 2017

    Walked into Mordor

    The Black Gate is open!

    Hooray! The Mordor expansion is here!

    I bought the Collector's Edition - I wanted a special mount and the high elf, and the extras in the Ultimate Fan Bundle would be nice, but too expensive.

    Steed of the Alliance of the Third Age
    Alliance of the Third Age cosmetic armour

    So far, Myndariel my Lore-master, Tyravorth my Beorning and Letycia my Captain (who used the Aria of the Valar to get boosted to 105) have entered Gorgoroth and are questing in Udûn. I've also created a new High Elf champion.

    Mordor First Impressions


    Session play was used quite well to show us key moments in the final stage of Frodo's journey, especially Gollum with Shelob and the battle between Gollum and Frodo for the ring. The Field of Cormallen looked stunning in glorious colours. Radanir was funny with his speech about an important to decision to make (which inn will the Rangers meet at for drinks?).

    Gollum and the Ring
    Field of Cormallen

    Walking into Mordor (yes I did originally try walking into Mordor from The Wastes - not recommended - you'll die!) by taking the horse from the Field of Cormallen to the Black Gate, it's dark, but not as bad as I expected. I like the purple shadows around the player when they leave the beaten track; they emphasise the sense of potential danger. The soot-smudged pages to find and audio lore excerpts are nice - if I could be patient enough to stand still and listen to them fully. I read them though. Briefly. Then rush off to explore some more. So much to see and do.

    The introduction of new NPCs with their own goals in Mordor is interesting and I look forward to journeying alongside them and seeing what mischief they get up to. I love crafting so I'm happy to see new resources and recipes and less reliance on essences. I'll have to wait and see whether the disenchantment system (breaking down unwanted gear into Ash of Gorgoroth) is good - will we get enough excess gear drops? Other than quest rewards, I've only had one piece of gear drop in the wild and I can't wait to use it (it's for level 107). I've found lots of chests that apparently contain Gorgoroth Crafting Bundles - but you need level 106 to open them. I hope they will be worthwhile.

    Udûn

    The mobs have been difficult because my characters aren't that well geared. Myndariel has had the easiest time so far, but the mobs still take a while to defeat. I feel like I'm hitting them with wet noodles and they avoid so many of my attacks. Once I get new gear with the stats balanced appropriate for the zone I'm sure it will get better.

    So far I'm enjoying it. It's tough but it should be. I'm looking forward to new gear and exploring new regions and learning more about the allegiance system and the Black Book of Mordor.

    High Elf


    Taurileth in the Second Age

    I created a High Elf champion and played through the starting area. After having just been through the finale of the War of the Ring on Myndariel and Tyravorth, it gave me goosebumps and that déjà-vu feeling playing through the High Elf intro set in the Second Age during the last battle against Sauron. It was awesome!

    High Elf Intro - Second Age

    And Elrond's house! Oh my! It looked amazing compared to the version we are familiar with, and that was pretty good to start with.

    Tham Send in Elrond's Last Homely House
    Taurileth in Tham Send

    I'm so glad we get the beautiful armour to keep. I love how you get sent to Celondim in Ered Luin with Elrond's sons - and a pile of books to catch up on a couple thousand years of history that occurred while you were sleeping! It's hard to imagine what that would be like. I've decided to make her a scholar as a result. Imagine poking around ruins and remembering them as beautiful buildings like it was yesterday - maybe she'll find "ancient" artifacts that were created by her friends or family, or even by her!

    I almost wish I had used the character boost on her, but from reading the Patch Notes, it looks like there are quite a few quests that have minor variations for High Elves, and it might be fun to experience those.

    Aria of the Valar


    When I logged in after the expansion launched, I was missing my Aria of the Valar package. There was an announcement that it was a known issue, and would be fixed soon. I transferred crafting materials to my bank to make room in my bags for Mordor stuff, and my bank was nearly full, so I bought some more shared storage, and then my Aria of the Valar Package arrived. So I used the Aria of the Valar character boost to take my level 18 Captain to level 105 so she could head into Mordor. I'll have to level her crafting skills later.


    It included (all character-bound):
    • Aria of the Valar (instantly boosts character to level 105 and transports you to Camp of the Host in The Wastes so you can pick up the Epic Quest Volume IV, Book 8 from Aragorn that leads you into Mordor; you also get 12 tiers of each virtue, trait points, promotion points, over 300 marks, a Westemnet Iron Coin, at least 10 LOTRO points from auto-completed deeds, an Anórien lootbox and a sturdy key).
    • Aria of the Valar Armour Pack (contains a full set of item level 294 armour and jewellery appropriate for your class, but no pocket item).
    • Aria of the Valar Weapon Pack (contains a item level 294 weapon set appropriate for your class (e.g. a sword and shield), plus 3 Unidentified Third Age Legendary Item Boxes so you can choose a weapon, a class item and a war-steed bridle).
    • Aria of the Valar Item Pack (contains 25 Dale-men's Crams, 25 Rejuvenation Potions, 25 Mithril Coins, Map to Eastfold - Aldburg, Map to the Sutcrofts - Snowbourne, an Anfalas Star-lit Crystal, Trait: Riding Characteristic (gain riding skill), Steed of the Citadel and war-steed appearances). 
    • 3 Giant Piles of Silver Scraps (worth 5 gold 400 silver).
    • 5 Tomes of Extraordinary Experience (XP boosters).
    • Map to Rivendell.
    • War-steed.
    • Trait: Mounted Combat (can use war-steeds).
    • Trait: Legendary items (can use legendary items).

    Camp of the Host, The Wastes
    Steed of the Citadel
    Captain boosted to level 105 wearing equipment from Aria of the Valar Package

    Saturday, 15 July 2017

    July: Month of the Hunter

    This month is all about hunters in Middle Earth for me: I'm currently levelling three hunters through various parts of the game and really enjoying the class. I usually play blue spec because I like the mobility, but I've been having fun trying out the yellow spec traps and decoy lately too.

    Level 100 Robinya (VIP) - West/Central Gondor


    Robinya doesn't really like fighting, she likes collecting artifacts. Fortunately, her quests in West Gondor recently took her to Edhellond where there were corsairs running around and nearly trampling priceless old elven artifacts amongst the ruins, so she had no compunction about putting an end to them when necessary.

    Edhellond

    Then she went to Dol Amroth and met up with Jajax again, who told her about the corsairs down on the coast at Hashadîr, so she went to their camp and found some crates of artifacts and she wasn't going to let any corsair slavers or pillagers stand in her way of returning them to the library in Dol Amroth for further study. Then Jajax got kidnapped so she had to go rescue him from Abedec's Watch, and they had been stealing artifacts too, so she reclaimed them as well.

    Robinya reached level 100 in Ethring, Ringló Vale in Central Gondor. It would be nice to get her to level 105 before the Mordor expansion launches, but I don't think I have enough time.

    Mordor Expansion

    I watched some streams of people playing the Mordor beta and saw that there is still a lot missing, placeholder text for quests, character appearances looking worse than before (fat faces with less expression, flat chests and big bellies), class skills needing balancing or fixing etc. so I figured the expansion was a still a little ways off - this is Mordor: I hope it will be really polished. Then we see the announcement for preorders and in the fine print it mentions the release date at the end of this month - July 31st. The fine print! <shakes head in disbelief> I love LOTRO but sometimes I despair over how the game is run.

    For most MMOs, expansion release dates is a big deal and they usually give you a fair bit of notice to build hype and let people prepare for it. When I used to play WoW, I would arrange to take my holidays during the first week of a new expansion so I could play it non-stop and enjoy all the new content without interruptions (oh server crashes or major bugs were inconvenient but also bonds players who were there together as they commiserate and help each other on voice chat, in-game chat or forums).

    This will be the first expansion in LOTRO since I joined, and I'd love to dedicate several days to it, but I won't even be there when the gates of Mordor open because I've already made other plans - visiting my family in New Zealand. Normally I would hope expansions launch on time and be complete (unlike Rift's latest expansion which was missing most of the advertised expansion content), but this time I hope the Mordor launch is delayed, for both selfish reasons and so they can make it the best it can be.

    Level 35 Mystrandos (F2P) - Evendim


    Evendim

    My free-to-play hunter Mystrandos is questing through Evendim, working on the Epic questline and saving up LOTRO points to unlock Angmar next.

    I don't really enjoy the quests in Northcotton Farm - so much traipsing back and forth - but at least she got quite a bit of XP from it. She completed some Shire deeds by questing around Oatbarton and the Glassblower's Camp near Dwaling, so those LOTRO points will help. Now she's based at Tinnudir and I'm looking forward to visiting the ruins throughout Parth Aduial.

    Level 1-20 Hunter


    I actually levelled a hunter from 1-20 at the start of the month so that I could create a little kin for crafting alts and invite myself into it with two accounts and two instances of the game open at the same time. However, I was already level 10 before it hit me that I should have screen-shotted and documented her levelling for the Introducing X Class guides. Oops. Opportunity missed. Ah well, I'll just make another hunter and take notes this time. Never can have too many hunters right?

    Thursday, 29 June 2017

    Introducing the Guardian: Level 1-20

    The guardian class is inspired by Samwise Gamgee who was a loyal protector to Frodo Baggins.

    The guardian is a team player who defends their allies from foes. Typically, they wield a sword-and-board (one-handed weapon and shield), but there is a two-handed tanking option as well. They have strong defenses but damage output tends to be lower than other classes.

    Here I'll record my experience levelling as a guardian from level 1 to 20, talking about skills, specs and anything else that might be useful to know.

    Level 1 Hobbit Guardian

    Here's our brand new guardian and some basic information about her:
    • Wears heavy armour
    • Wields a one-handed weapon (club) and shield
    • Primary stat is Might
    • Starting abilities are: Guardian's Ward (buffs block and parry chance and deals some single-target melee damage) and Sting (a basic single-target melee attack).

    The first quest in the introduction provides a satchel that gives you an axe and shield. At level 2  you get Shield Swipe and Retaliation. These abilities will be very important as they can start a chain of events. Shield Swipe becomes available when you successfully block an attack, while Retaliation becomes available when you successfully parry an attack. Also at level 2, you are sent to see the Guardian trainer who wants you to practice attacking a training dummy and use Shield Swipe. They suggest using Guardian's Ward to increase your chance to block so that Shield Swipe will become available.

    At level 4 you get a basic AOE melee attack, Sweeping Cut, which hits up to 3 targets in front of you. At level 6 you get another AOE melee attack, Whirling Retaliation. Like Retaliation, this is activated by parrying an attack, but it hits up to 5 targets in a circle around you.

    Also at level 6 you get to choose a specialisation. The options are:
    • Blue = The Defender of the Free (1H/shield tank) - specialises in protection and survival, with multiple taunts and buffs. Shield skills have a chance to apply a fortification buff that increases your mitigations and stacks up to 5 times. You also gain Shield-Taunt which taunts several mobs after using Shield Swipe, and Litany of Defiance which slows the attacks of several mobs, gives you a temporary buff to mitigations and deflects some of the damage intended for your allies to you.
    • Red = The Keen Blade (DPS) - specialises in applying bleeds and hard-hitting finishers. Critical strikes apply a stacking bleed effect. You also gain Force Opening which lets you use skills that rely on a successful parry response, and Overwhelm which requires you to have used Retaliation or Whirling Retaliation, is a strong finisher that removes bleed effects from the target but applies a stun on a critical hit.
    • Yellow = The Fighter of Shadow (2H tank) - specialises in debuffing enemies and dealing Light damage. You gain the abilities Force Opening, which lets you use skills that rely on a successful parry response, and Take to Heart which marks a target, causing them to have a higher chance to miss, and you have a chance to restore some morale when you attack them.

    My interpretation is that Blue is the main tanking spec, Red is for DPS and Yellow is sort of a hybrid, or maybe an off-tank. Yellow might also be good for soloing tough mobs. You can also use a one-handed weapon and shield as Yellow, as the option to block with a two-handed weapon is only available through Set Bonuses (which requires VIP player status or a purchase from the LOTRO store).

    After completing the introduction, don't forget to check your mail for the adventurer's gift. It contains several useful items and starts a couple of quests, including one that rewards 5 Tokens of Salutations which can be traded with the Barterer for a pocket item that increases run speed and some health or power potions. The run speed buff can be quite helpful, especially if you don't have a mount.

    At level 7 you get your first trait point to spend in your chosen specialisation. I've started off in the Red tree, and all the options in the first tier look useful - crits restore some morale, increased parry chance or increased skill damage.

    At level 8 you get a ranged ST ability, Let Fly. Note: you need a bow or crossbow equipped in your ranged slot to be able to use this ability. You can get a ranged weapon from a bowyer or the auction house (or trade chat, or a friend/kin-mate), make one if you have the woodworking skill or get one as a quest reward or random drop from mobs. I'll have to buy one. With a ranged weapon equipped, you can also pull mobs from a distance with the auto-attack key (`), which may be useful until you get a proper taunt (or shoot them in the back if they run away).

    At level 10 you get another AOE melee attack, Vexing Blow. You are also now eligible to take part in Epic Battles such as Retaking Pelargir, however it may not be a very successful or satisfactory experience because even though you get scaled to level 100, without all your gear slots filled and with only limited abilities, you will be quite vulnerable.

    So far I'm finding the Guardian a bit frustrating. Already there are quite a few skills and there are so many cooldowns and pre-requisites and abilities flashing up on the Auto-skill bar that it can be hard to tell what to do next, so combat feels rather chaotic.
    • Single target scenario (as Red spec) - I start with Guardian's Ward then Sting. If I haven't blocked or parried, I hit Force Opening to enable the parry chain then use Retaliation, followed by Overwhelm. If I block, I use Shield Swipe. Once I've used Shield Swipe, Retaliation or Overwhelm, they have rather long cooldowns, so even if I block or parry again, I might not be able to use them, so I have to go back to using Guardian's Ward and Sting, or use AOE abilities. Or maybe I block one attack and parry the next so now I have both Shield Swipe and Retaliation and Whirling Retaliation available - which do I use first (I would go with Shield Swipe because it hits harder)?
    • AOE scenario (as Red spec) - I start with Guardian's Ward then use Sweeping Cut and Vexing Blow. If I haven't blocked or parried, I hit Force Opening then use Whirling Retaliation and Overwhelm on my main target. If Sweeping Cut, Vexing Blow and Force Opening are still on cooldown, I have to use ST abilities. If I block, I can use Shield Swipe on my main target, but if Whirling Retaliation is available that would be my priority because it hits more targets. I'm taking a lot of damage in AOE situations (with 3 mobs I might drop to 50% morale).

    Writing down what skills I would use in different scenarios actually helped it to start making more sense. With a couple more levels under my belt, it isn't feeling so chaotic anymore.

    Nevertheless, I decided to try out Yellow spec with a sword and shield. I enjoyed it more than Red and I think part of that is because of the target marking (which also taunts the mob) and getting morale back when hitting that target felt like a survivability boost, and partly because the DPS seemed a bit better.

    At level 13 I decided to do a little test and compare Red and Yellow DPS against wolves in The Shire. I killed 5 wolves of the same level and recorded DPS and time to kill (from the CombatAnalysis plugin).

    SpecialisationAverage DPS (range)Average Time to Kill (range)
    Red17.14 (14.6-20.9)11.18 seconds (8.8-14.1 seconds)
    Yellow17.92 (16.4-20.9)10.02 seconds (9.0-11.3 seconds)

    It was only a small test, but I thought Red would have higher DPS; instead it seemed to be more spiky whereas Yellow was more consistent.

    At level 14 you get the Charge ability which is a sprint. When I saw the skill name, I thought it was a gap-closer that lets you charge at a target, like in other MMOs, but the sprint is nice, even if it has a long cooldown.

    Around level 13-14 you will get offered some quests to go visit Bree-land. At level 15 you get a class quest in the mail, asking you to visit the Guardian trainer in Bree (in Bree-land). The Guardian trainer is in the jail and sends you to assist one of his guards, Oswin Leek. Oswin wants you to protect a farmer, Burle Pierson, from brigands who are trying to scare him off his farm south of Bree.

    Pierson's Farm

    After defeating the brigand leader, you get a helmet and the title "Shield Against Adversity".

    At level 16 you get the Challenge ability which lets you taunt multiple mobs. There are no new skills for a few levels but you do get a couple of trait points.

    At level 20 you get Turn the Tables which lets you deal damage and stun an enemy if you are knocked down, dazed or stunned yourself. In a group, this also starts a fellowship manoeuver. You also get some passive abilities - you gain Critical Defence which reduces the chance of being critically hit, and you learn to use Shield Spikes which can have various effects such as increasing critical hit chance or changing the damage type (which may increase the effectiveness of your attacks against certain types of mobs). Shields spikes can be bought from the Guardian trainer, or crafted by a weaponsmith.

    My gear obtained through questing wasn't very good at level 20. I still had level 5 gloves and was missing several pieces of jewellery. So I went to the Skirmish Camp and upgraded everything I could.

    Here's how my guardian looks at level 20 now:

    Level 20 Hobbit Guardian

    I then went to the training dummies in the Training Hall in Bree and tested each spec's unbuffed DPS over 3 minutes (or until power runs out) with a sword and shield, and with a 2H-sword, and took a screenshot at the end to eliminate the effects of DoTs that kept going after I stopped attacking. For virtues, I had one tier of Compassion and one tier of Charity active. With my 7 trait points, I focused on damage-boosting traits where possible.

    Here are my DPS results with a 1H and shield (collected with CombatAnalysis plugin):

    StatisticsDefender of the Free (Blue)The Keen Blade (Red)The Fighter of Shadow (Yellow)
    Damage1063392009611
    Time3 m 0.5 s2 m 9.2 s2 m 42.6 s
    Average DPS58.971.259.1
    Minimum Hit241324
    Average Hit51.148.953.1
    Maximum Hit125137125
    Attacks208190181
    Critical Strikes (%)32 (15.4%)26 (13.8%)32 (17.7%)
    Skill Priorities
    1. Shield-swipe
    2. Retaliation
    3. Guardian's Ward
    4. Sting
    1. Shield-swipe
    2. Overwhelm
    3. Retaliation
    4. Force Opening
    5. Guardian's Ward
    6. Sting
    1. Take to Heart (pre- combat)
    2. Shield-swipe
    3. Retaliation
    4. Force Opening
    5. Guardian's Ward
    6. Sting

    Here are my DPS results with a 2H-sword (collected with CombatAnalysis plugin):

    StatisticsDefender of the Free (Blue)The Keen Blade (Red)The Fighter of Shadow (Yellow)
    DamageN/A1187111188
    Time
    2 m 21.3 s2 m 59.4 s
    Average DPS
    84.062.4
    Minimum Hit
    1433
    Average Hit
    60.365.8
    Maximum Hit
    201157
    Attacks
    200170
    Critical Strikes (%)
    23 (11.7%)23 (13.5%)
    Skill Priorities
    1. Retaliation
    2. Guardian's Ward
    3. Sting
    1. Overwhelm
    2. Retaliation
    3. Force Opening
    4. Guardian's Ward
    5. Sting
    1. Take to Heart (pre-combat)
    2. Retaliation
    3. Force Opening
    4. Guardian's Ward
    5. Sting

    Note 1: Blue spec with a 2H weapon only had 3 single target abilities and when all were on cooldown and she had to wait a few seconds, CombatAnalysis kept resetting, assuming she had left combat (hence why the results are marked N/A; not available). Based on multiple attempts, she was not going to run out of power, and average DPS was around 55-60.

    Note 2: Because my guardian is on a free-to-play account, I didn't have set bonuses unlocked so could not block in Yellow spec with a 2H weapon, but VIP players could (I would prioritise Shield-swipe over Retaliation if available).

    General Observations



    Playing the Guardian requires concentration to monitor what abilities are available and the play-style is more reactive than proactive.

    The Yellow spec mechanism of spreading debuffs from your main target to nearby mobs made it easy to switch between single target and AOE damage or take down a strong enemy and their minions/weak allies.

    Armorsmith would be a useful profession for Guardians because they can make heavy armour, shields and legendary Guardian belts (which go in the class slot later).

    Specialisations


    Blue - Defender of the Free: Strong defences which is great for groups but boring and slow to play solo. Overall, I wouldn't recommend this spec for levelling solo but it should be good for tanking in instances.

    Red - The Keen Blade: DPS can be a bit spiky depending on how frequently you trigger block and parry chains. Parry chains seem to be more important, so you could use a 1H and shield or a 2H weapon. I think I would use a 2H most of the time and swap to a 1H and shield for tough mobs. Unfortunately, from what I've heard on the forums and seen from my own experience levelling various classes, the DPS is low compared to other classes. Overall, I think while this spec is not ideal for instances, it should be fine for levelling or questing solo. 

    Yellow - The Fighter of Shadow: I found this the most enjoyable spec to play. As mentioned above, it could easily switch between single target and AOE damage. It also had some defensive buffs so it felt tougher but the DPS didn't feel much weaker than in Red spec when questing - the difference was more noticeable on the training dummies. If you don't have the set bonuses unlocked, stick to 1H and shield, but otherwise 2H is a viable option and alternative to Red spec. Overall, I think this spec would be fine for levelling and would probably be good for group quests because you debuff and weaken the enemies, but I'm not sure about instances because it seems to be a hybrid DPS/tank.

    Stats

    • Might - your main stat that increases your damage and your block and parry (activating various abilities and bonuses)
    • Critical Strike - increases your damage
    • Mitigations, resistances and critical defence - reduces damage taken
    • Morale and vitality - bigger health pool increases survivability

    Here are some virtues that may be helpful for Guardians and how to get them by level 20:


    VirtueActivityDeed
    INNOCENCE

    (physical mitigation, tactical mitigation, resistance)
    Complete 75 quests in The ShireLife of a Bounder (Final)(The Shire)
    COMPASSION

    (physical mitigation, tactical mitigation, non-combat power regeneration)
    Complete 15 quests in The Shire

    Complete 20 quests in Ered Luin
    Life of a Bounder (The Shire)

    Defender of Ered Luin (Ered Luin)
    DISCIPLINE

    (might, physical mitigation, resistance)
    Defeat 90 wolves in Ered Luin

    Defeat 60 hendrovail in Ered Luin

    Defeat 60 sickle-flies in Bree-land
    Wolf-slayer (Advanced)(Ered Luin)

    Hendroval-slayer (Advanced)(Ered Luin)

    Sickle-fly Slayer (Advanced)(Bree-land)
    PATIENCE

    (physical mitigation, resistance, in-combat power regeneration)
    Explore Dwarven settlements in Ered Luin

    Retrieve spoiled pies in The Shire

    Deliver mail between settlements in The Shire

    Explore the ruins of Bree-land

    Explore the Barrow-downs in Bree-land
    Places of the Dwarves (Ered Luin)

    No Place for Spoiled Pies (The Shire)

    Restoring the Quick Post (The Shire)

    The Ruins of Bree-land (Bree-land)

    The Barrow-downs (Bree-land)
    ZEAL

    (morale, physical mitigation, armour)
    Defeat 90 goblins in Ered Luin

    Defeat 90 spiders in Ered Luin

    Defeat 90 Barrow-spiders in Bree-land
    Goblin-slayer (Advanced)(Ered Luin)

    Spider-slayer (Advanced)(Ered Luin)

    Brood-hunter (Advanced)(Bree-land)
    HONOUR

    (resistance, tactical mitigation, vitality)
    Defeat 60 spiders in The Shire

    Defeat 90 spiders in Bree-land
    Spider-slayer (Advanced)(The Shire)

    Spider-slayer (Advanced)(Bree-land)
    FIDELITY

    (tactical mitigation, vitality, power)
    Explore landmarks in The Shire

    Explore Dourhand strongholds in Ered Luin
    The Sights of the Shire (The Shire)

    Scouting the Dourhands (Ered Luin)

    Pros of the Guardian Class

    • Good survivability
    • Blue spec tanks are popular for instances
    • ST and AOE abilities and debuffs

    Cons of the Guardian Class

    • Low DPS
    • Limited ranged abilities 
    • Reactive play-style

    I hope this has been helpful. Feel free to leave any questions or advice for new guardians in the comments below.

    Coming soon in the Introducing X Class series: the Hunter.

    Saturday, 17 June 2017

    Anniversary Scavenger Hunt Finale

    Armour and Steed of the Reminiscing Dragon

    The Year 10 Scavenger Hunt quests are now available as well as the final rewards for completing scavenger hunts from each of the 10 years which include the title "Versed in Yesteryear", a package containing 7 pieces of cosmetic Armour of the Reminiscing Dragon (with both a hooded and unhooded cloak), the Steed of the Reminiscing Dragon and the Majestic Stag pet.

    Reginald, the Majestic Stag

    Not mentioned is that you also get the war-steed appearances for the Reminiscing Dragon and the blue parts are dyeable!


    Warsteed of the Reminiscing Dragon

    Warsteed appearances dyed forest green

    I love the colours on the Reminiscing Steed (I know it's pretty similar to the Unflagging Dragon, but I prefer silver to gold) and I think this will be Myndariel's favourite mount for a while. Although I have completed scavenger hunts from every year, I still have a few quests to finish - mostly the ones involving instances and skirmishes - so the hunt continues.

    I'm still curious about what the scrap paper is for too...

    OK. I found out. I don't want to spoil it for people who haven't done it, so for more specific information, visit LOTRO-Wiki. In general terms though, the scrap paper is a clue about where to go to find the final quest in the scavenger hunt.

    Here's a hint:


    The final quest is timed (you have 30 seconds to complete it) and involves a companion, a rock and some emotes. And as a reward for completing it you get this:

    and it makes noise

    Thanks to Standing Stone Games for the scavenger hunt. It's been interesting and fun to revisit some iconic locations and events in Middle Earth. For everyone still taking part in the scavenger hunt, may you reminisce on many good times in LOTRO during the last ten years, and for those whose characters weren't high enough level to complete the scavenger hunt this year, may you be inspired to keep levelling and know that there is lots to see and do in Eriador, Rhovanion, Gondor and Mordor.

    Monday, 12 June 2017

    Update 20.1.2, the store and game launcher drama

    The latest update on May 31 was intended to fix the in-game store, but had some serious side effects for a lot of players, with both Windows and Linux affected.

    Basically, from what I understand, the in-game store uses some third-party software and the third-party changed their code to comply with some new legal requirements and Standing Stone Games had to change their code to maintain compatibility. While they worked on the changes, they implemented an external store for LOTRO in the web browser, but when they switched to the new in-game store using a Chromium Embedded Framework, older operating systems, such as 32-bit Windows XP and Vista as well as Linux systems using 32-bit Wine, did not support it, which caused critical errors and crashes upon launching LOTRO and clicking the Play button.

    At the same time, there was also a problem with 64-bit Windows 7/8/10 systems that seemed to have the same outcome - the game crashed on launch - but a different cause. It was found to be due to a conflict with a third-party graphics utility called SweetFX, and removing SweetFX fixed the issue for many. Some people suggested ReShade (which works with LOTRO) as a replacement for SweetFX.

    While ideally these issues would have been caught in QA testing before launching the Update, SSG started investigating the issues pretty quickly and kept providing feedback and suggestions in the forums, but the community was also great at trying to narrow down the root cause (although there were a few who decided to ridicule people using older operating systems which wasn't helpful).

    Suggestions for fixing the issue included:
    • renaming/relocating the UserPreferences.ini file (didn't work)
    • restore default settings in the launcher options (didn't work)
    • run game as admin (didn't work)
    • reinstalling the game (didn't work)
    • removing d3d9.dll from the LOTRO game directory (worked for some people with Windows 7+, probably as it was a dependency for SweetFX)
    • changing Wine version to 2.7-staging or later and OS from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1, and using OpenGL (worked for some people using Linux - but not for me)

    Within 48 hours of the Update, the developers had new launcher and client files for affected players to download and copy into the LOTRO game directory (also recommended to backup the original launcher configuration file first). Reports started coming in pretty quickly that it worked for most people with Windows and Linux (worked for me).

    So LOTRO worked for a few days until June 6, then they did server maintenance to implement some bugfixes and the game launcher crashed again - this time with an error message saying "You don't have the current version of the client." The solution was to download and install a newer version of the launcher and client files from the same place as before (but clear your internet cache/use incognito or private mode/use different browser to make sure you don't re-download the old versions). This worked, but I hope we don't have to do this every time they update the game.

    Also, I'm still having to use the external browser to visit the store with no option to choose between the in-game store or the external store in the UI Settings or the UserPreferences.ini file. I'm using Linux Mint 18 and PlayOnLinux with Wine version 2.8, Windows 7 compatibility and DirectX 9. I've also tried Wine 2.7-staging, Wine 2.9-staging (with OpenGL, CSMT or default rendering settings) and Windows 8.1 compatibility but it made no difference to the store. DirectX 11 support in Wine is improving (I can play Elder Scrolls Online now, but with graphics glitches) but not complete yet, and I don't think changing to DirectX 11 will fix the store issue. I would like to have a working in-game store soon.

    LOTRO is playable again, but they really need to get a permanent fix for these issues. It's putting me off playing LOTRO at the moment because I don't know if the game is going to work or if I'm going to have to go hunting for work-arounds, or if I'll have to wait for the next patch.

    *Update 22/6/17: Tried to log into LOTRO and there has been a patch. First it told me that it could not save the data files, so I reset the launcher options to default. It patched ok and logged in, then crashed with the error message about "You don't have the current version of the client." I re-downloaded the launcher and client files (I've put shortcuts to the download links on my browser toolbar - looks like I might need them frequently), put them in the LOTRO folder, restarted the launcher and then the game worked.

    *Update 29/6/17: Another patch, another crash and error message about not having the correct version. This time I only downloaded the lotroclient_awesomium.exe file and moved it to the LOTRO folder, then restarted the launcher and the game worked.

    *Update 3/8/17: Update 21 and the Mordor expansion released and the game worked fine straight away, but the store still opens in the external browser. However, I ended up reinstalling LOTRO on my other computer and it crashed to desktop after clicking the Play button. I downloaded the launcher and client files from the website, then the game automatically patched them (apparently they weren't up to date), then the game worked on that computer too. So those files are still critical for linux players and we're still stuck with the external game store.

    Sunday, 4 June 2017

    Level 50 Champion

    Kaseya at the Walls of Moria

    I got Kaseya, my champion, to level 50 and, surprisingly, she is loving Moria so far. She's finding it really easy and doesn't even mind that she's only got the slow (32%) goat from the quest - I was going to take her to Sarnúr to get kindred with Thorin's Hall to buy their faster goat (62%), but by the time she quested in Misty Mountains and Angmar and did part of Goblintown, she was level 48 and her first legendary sword was level 10 and she was keen to get her legendary rune and visit Moria.

    I'm dual-wielding and playing both red and yellow specs on her - red for single mobs and yellow for groups of mobs. In the mid 40s she got some traits that let her attacks restore some morale in both specs, so her health doesn't drop much. She's finally got a cleanse ability (a.k.a. Fear Nothing!) to get rid of debuffs which helps, and a couple of abilities to boost dps and power regen for some nice bursts of damage.

    Yellow had really good fervour generation at level 20 with Battle Frenzy, and now Red is generating lots of fervour too due to trait bonuses - Precise Strikes gives an extra pip for each crit (and she crits a lot) and Red Haze restores full fervour after killing a mob. Both specs have very little down-time which is great.

    At level 50, Savage Strikes became Feral Strikes which removes corruptions. I was hardly using Savage Strikes because it doesn't seem to do as much damage as Remorseless Strike or Merciful Strike for Red, and Blade Storm or Raging Blade for Yellow. So I've moved it from my main action bar to my utility/situational bar and moved Clobber (an interrupt that deals a little damage) to my main bar instead because I'm using that a lot. I try to avoid getting stunned or letting mobs heal themselves.

    My first legendary weapon started with Critical Damage Multiplier, Brutal Strikes Damage and Rend Bleed Damage legacies. The Crit Multiplier and Rend was good but Brutal Strikes is another ability in the Red tree that seems redundant at low levels, although there are some traits that may improve it later. The Champion Rune started with Champion's Horn Stun Duration, Swift Strike Power Cost and Ebbing Ire Cooldown legacies. I probably don't use my Horn to stun mobs as often as I should or could, so maybe this will remind me to use it more. Reducing the power cost of Swift Strike is good because it is way too expensive for the amount of damage it does. Ebbing Ire reduces threat - I'm levelling solo so I haven't even bothered putting trait points into it in Red line - so that was pretty useless.  Hopefully I get some better legacies for my Rune when I reforge.

    My Rotation

    This is what I use for questing solo at level 50 and it works well for me. There may be more effective rotations available and I encourage people to check out the Champion class forums and LOTRO wiki for more tips and guides.

    Red Line - The Berserker

    If it's an elite mob, I start off with Controlled Burn which increases melee damage, attack speed, power and fervour generation. I use Devastating Strikes to build 2 fervour and debuff the target so they take more damage. I use Wild Attack then Swift Strike if needed to generate enough fervour for Remorseless Strike. Keep building fervour then spending it on Remorseless Strike until Merciful Strike (the nuke/execute skill) becomes available, or if my health drops I use Bracing Attack. If I need more healing, I use Fight On. If my power starts to drop and Controlled Burn is still on cooldown, I use True Heroics to boost power and critical hit chance and debuff the enemy so they attack slower. I try to finish them off with Merciful Strike.

    I use Clobber (interrupt), Fear Nothing! (debuff removal), Blood Rage (stun/disarm removal), Feral Strikes (to remove corruptions) and Hamstring (slow) as needed.

    Yellow Line - The Deadly Storm

    When I get in range of a group of mobs, I start with Battle Frenzy to boost fervour generation. I use Rend to put an armour debuff on the mobs as well as cause damage-over-time, and also generate 2 fervour. I can usually use Blade Storm straight away, but if I need more fervour I either use Blade Wall (which doesn't generate or cost fervour but hits all the mobs nearby) and wait a second for Battle Frenzy to generate some, or use Wild Attack then Swift Strike if needed. When Blade Storm is on cooldown, I build fervour with Rend, Wild Attack and Swift Strike, then spend fervour on Raging Blade (or Bracing Attack if I need some healing, with Fight On for more healing). If power starts to drop or I need a dps burst, I use True Heroics which boosts power and melee damage, and slows enemy movement speed (because by now some are probably defeated or nearly defeated and maybe thinking about running away). When Battle Frenzy is off cooldown, I use it again to keep fervour generation up. If multiple mobs are casting or starting to run away I use Horn of Gondor to stun them. I try to finish off stragglers with Merciful Strike, or if they run out of melee range I use my bow.

    I use Clobber (interrupt), Fear Nothing! (debuff removal), Blood Rage (stun/disarm removal), Feral Strikes (to remove corruptions) and Hamstring (slow) as needed.

    My Legendary Legacies Wish-list

    For my weapon, I'd like (but can't have them all):
    • Major - Area of Effect Skill Damage
    • Major - Critical Damage Multiplier
    • Major - Wild Attack Damage
    • Major - Remorseless Strike Damage
    • Major - Rend Bleed Damage
    • Minor - Battle Frenzy Cooldown
    • Minor - Rend Armour Reduction
    • Minor - True Heroics Power
    • Minor - Fear Nothing Cooldown/Incoming Healing

    For my rune, I'd like (but can't have them all):
    • Major - Blade Wall Damage
    • Major - Bracing Attack Heal
    • Major - Blade Line AOE Power Cost
    • Major - Devastating Strike Damage Multiplier
    • Major - Swift Strike Power Cost
    • Minor - Merciful Strike Damage
    • Minor - Strike Skill Power Cost 
    • Minor - Raging Blade Damage

    My champion is a Westemnet Weaponsmith at the moment, so I'm looking forward to getting her to max rep with the Weaponsmith's guild soon so she can make level 100 legendary weapons. I am really enjoying playing this character now so maybe she will be my next character to reach max level as well.

    Tuesday, 30 May 2017

    Scenic Tour: Mirkwood

    Mirkwood is easy to miss out because it is not readily accessible. First you need the Siege of Mirkwood expansion, then you need to start the epic quest line in Vol. 2, Book 9 to be able to get a boat from Lothlórien across the Anduin, and finally you need to complete the Mirkwood Landing quests in the Mirk-eaves before you can enter the rest of Mirkwood.

    Looking across the Anduin towards Mirkwood
    The docks at Imlad Lalaith
    The Mirkwood Landing camp at Echad Sirion

    The story in Mirkwood is very well done and leads you through the zone. You really get the sense of the encroaching orcs, undead and corrupted beasts taking over the forest and bringing destruction wherever they go, and the elves fighting to hold back the invasion and disrupt the Necromancer's plans.

    The elvish outpost at Ost Galadh is surrounded by healthy forest
    The orcish fortress of Dol Goldur is surrounded by dying forest

    There are some surprising and interesting places tucked away in the forest off the beaten path. The swamps of the Drownholt with the angry huorns at Sâd Meryrn; the stone circle at Hrigg Vidukuni in Emyn Lûm; the spider den at Gorogrod and the Shrine of the Ancient One in the Scuttledells; the Verdant Shrine in Taur Morvith, and Sâd Doldúr in the Ashenslades, to name a few spots that are worth exploring.

    Blue sky is a rare sight in gloomy Mirkwood

    Saturday, 20 May 2017

    May Update

    Good news! I got a new computer and now LOTRO is better than ever. On my laptop I was getting 10-30 fps, on my new PC I'm now getting over 100 fps! The graphics look amazing and animations are so smooth. I'm still using Linux Mint - I think I'm truly converted now and can't imagine going back to Windows - and now have a SSD and a 2TB HDD (lots of room for screenshots!), and a nVidia GTX 1070 8GB graphics card.

    I've been pretty busy trying to complete all the scavenger hunt quests. They've been a lot of fun but they do take a while. I'm still updating my LOTRO's 10th Anniversary article as more quests become available, with tips on where to go and pictures of the rewards as I get them.

    The view from Wellinghall (Year 5 Tales: Merry)
    I really like the Fishing Creel backpack (Year 5 reward)

    With levelling a champion to 20 and writing about the experience, I've been enjoying the class so much I'm now working on levelling one of my champs to 50 so she can get some legendaries and head into Moria. I've also been really enjoying my free-to-play (F2P) hunter and I have been inspired by a kin member who has a F2P character who is almost level 105 and is farming Moria deeds on an alt to get enough LOTRO points for the next quest pack. It's encouraging to be reminded that you can get to max level for free if you really want to.

    My goal for the rest of this month is to keep up with the scavenger hunts, finish my scenic tour of Mirkwood and get my champ to 50. Hopefully I can also level a guardian to 20 for my Introducing X Class series. Which reminds me, I still need to install TitanBar and CombatAnalysis plugins on the new computer.

    Bye for now. Have fun in Middle Earth!

    Monday, 1 May 2017

    Introducing the Champion: Level 1-20

    When I think of champions, I think of Gimli swinging his axes and revelling in the thrill of battle, or Aragorn with his sword, slicing through foes at the Battle for Helm's Deep, the Battle of Pelennor Fields and the Battle of the Morannon (Black Gate).

    Champions are strong melee fighters that are renowned for their ability to deal damage to many targets, although they can also duel toe-to-toe with a single enemy.

    Here I'll record my experience levelling as a champion from level 1 to 20, talking about skills and specs and anything else that might be useful to know.

    Level 1 Dwarf Champion

    Here's our brand new champion and some information about him:
    • Wears heavy armour
    • Can dual-wield or use two-handed melee weapons
    • Can use a bow or crossbow as a ranged weapon
    • Primary stat is Might
    • Starting abilities are: Swift Strike (a single-target melee attack that generates 1 fervour) and Blade Wall (an AOE melee attack).

    The first quest in the introduction provides a satchel that gives you a sword and dagger to dual-wield. At level 2 you learn a new ability called Savage Strikes that does multiple attacks against a single target and costs 2 fervour.

    Fervour is a resource that champions generate and spend during combat. Abilities that cost more fervour tend to be more powerful. Fervour disappears if you are out of combat for more than a few seconds.

    Also at level 2, you are sent to visit the Champion trainer to practice building fervour and spending it on Savage Strikes against the target dummy. As a reward, you are given some better weapons to dual-wield.

    The next ability becomes available at level 6. Wild Attack is like a better version of Swift Strike - it hits a single target several times, uses less power and has a shorter cooldown. So now you can use Wild Attack and Swift Strike to build 2 fervour then use Savage Strikes to spend it. Rinse and repeat until individual mobs are dead.

    At level 6 you can also choose a specialisation. The options are:
    • Blue = The Martial Champion (tank) - specialises in survivability and lets you learn how to block with a two-handed weapon and gain Sudden Defence, an ability which costs all your fervour for an absorption bubble to prevent damage. You also have increased threat generation and morale and a small chance to gain an extra fervour "pip" and reflect damage back at your opponent.
    • Red = The Berserker (ST DPS) - specialises in dealing burst damage to a single target and relies on critical strikes. You also gain some abilities: Devastating Strike generates 2 fervour and debuffs your enemy so they take more damage, and Remorseless Strike which costs 4 fervour, hits hard and is hard to defend against (so is more likely to be successful). Your single target attacks may also increase the critical strike strike chance of Remorseless Strike.
    • Yellow = The Deadly Storm (AOE DPS) - specialises in dealing damage to multiple targets and AOE abilities have a chance to reduce your attack duration so you attack faster. You also gain some abilities: Rend, which hits several targets and causes damage over time, reduces their armour and generates 2 fervour, and Blade Storm which does several attacks to several targets, reduces your attack duration if you get a critical strike and costs 4 fervour.

    There are times when you will be fighting one mob and there are times when you are fighting several mobs so it would be good to be familiar with both red and yellow specs. Both red and yellow tend to favour dual-wielding as some abilities involve attacking with your off-hand (also gives you more chances for critical strikes which is good for red spec, and one-handed weapons attack faster than two-handed weapons which is good for yellow spec). Blue is more defensive and relies on a two-handed weapon. However, dual-wielding or two-handed weapons are your choice so find what works best for you. I don't have much experience with blue spec so I will have to try it out.

    After completing the introduction, don't forget to check your mail for the adventurer's gift. It contains several useful items and starts a couple of quests, including one that rewards 5 Tokens of Salutations which can be traded with the Barterer for a pocket item that increases run speed and some health or power potions. The run speed buff can be quite helpful, especially if you don't have a mount.

    At level 7 you get your first trait point to spend in your specialisation. In the yellow spec, I started putting points into Might Increase which will help increase both ST and AOE damage, while in red spec I put points into increasing critical strike chance, again because it will benefit both ST and AOE damage.

    Try to get a bow as soon as possible (I got one from a quest reward at level 8, but you could also buy one from a bowyer) as it is very useful for pulling mobs or shooting mobs that try to run away, using your auto-attack key (`).

    At level 10 you get the ability Champion's Challenge, which is a taunt. You also get some passive abilities allowing you to use two-handed weapons and one-handed spears.

    By this stage I was finding that yellow spec is a joy to play - fast, fluid and fun. You've got a basic single target rotation, but you've also got some solid AOE options. I took on 8 goblins in Orodost (5 to start with and then another 3 joined in) and my health only dropped to about 60%. Battle Frenzy in the yellow spec tree is great - activate it before you start fighting a group of mobs (or pull a few mobs so you have a group to fight) to boost your fervour generation and then you'll be able to use your spenders like Blade Storm more frequently and eliminate the mobs quicker. At least at this level too, you barely use any power and skills have short cooldowns, so you can plow into the next group of mobs and keep going with very little downtime. I really felt like a whirlwind of destruction wiping out the entire enemy camp in a few minutes.

    I've also been trying out red spec too, and it's fine - it hits hard and kills single mobs quickly. But when there are a group of mobs your AOE is limited, so you have to kill them one at a time. I noticed I took more damage during multi-target fights in red spec than in yellow spec. Also, without Battle Frenzy, you have several fervour spenders to choose from, but it's slower to build up enough fervour to use them.

    At level 14 you get Bracing Attack, which is a single target attack that costs fervour but also heals you. It has a 30 second cooldown, but this should be a useful skill - just don't save it for healing up at the end of the fight and then kill the mob before you've used it or you'll miss out.

    At level 15 you get mail notifying you of a class quest sending you to talk to Ultan Foebane in Bree. He hopes a champion like you can help eliminate some troublemakers around Bree-land, namely: a goblin called Zurpukh of the Deeps who is patrolling the Midgewater Marsh east of Goblinhole Ruins; a half-orc called Fair Sherman who is standing lookout near Southguard Ruins in the Vale of Andrath; and a brigand called Morley the Fierce who is laying low in the Old Greenway Fort in the Northern Bree-fields.


    Zurpukh of the Deeps

    Fair Sherman

    Morley the Fierce

    Completing the quest earns you the title "Blade of Renown" and a one-handed axe.

    At level 16 you get a basic ranged attack ability that uses your bow or crossbow called Let Fly, which hits harder than an auto-attack and as mentioned above, is useful for pulling mobs into combat or finishing off mobs that run away.

    I tried out blue spec for a couple of levels with a two-handed axe. My rotation was basically using Blade Wall to reduce enemy damage, then the basic single target rotation (Wild Attack, Swift Strike, Savage Strikes or Bracing Attack if healing needed). It felt like a tougher but weaker version of red spec - tougher because I didn't take as much damage, but weaker because I didn't deal as much damage either.

    I went back to yellow spec and dual wielding and I found that my gear needed upgrading because I felt a bit squishy taking on several mobs. I think good gear and weapons will be quite important for DPS champions because they don't have as many healing or survival skills that some other classes have.

    At level 20 you gain the ability Blood Rage which lets you break out of stuns, dazes and knock-downs (very useful). You also gain some passive abilities - Horns of Valour lets you use consumable horns crafted by woodworkers to stun a group of mobs. Runic Use lets you use Champion Runes in your class item equipment slot. There are two types of runes - Striking Runes that reduce the power cost of single target attacks, and Vanquishing Runes that reduce the power cost of AOE attacks. Runes can be crafted by jewellers but the level 20 versions can be bought from the Champion trainer. Personally I think Striking Runes will be generally more useful but Vanquishing Runes may be helpful for yellow spec to swap in if you know you're going to be farming an area or doing instances/skirmishes where you'll be fighting lots of mobs. You can also now use Potions of Fervour which are crafted by scholars to give you a quick boost of fervour.

    I finished the quests I was doing in the Barrow-downs and headed to the Skirmish Camp to upgrade my gear. Here's how my champion looks at level 20:

    Level 20 Dwarf Champion

    I then went to the training dummies in the Training Hall in Bree and tested each spec's DPS with no consumable buffs active over 3 minutes, and took a screenshot at the end to eliminate the effects of DoTs that kept going after I stopped attacking. Or at least that was the plan (see below). For virtues, I had four tiers of Charity and one tier of Discipline. With my 7 trait points, I focused on general damage-boosting traits where possible.

    I got quite a surprise when I faced the training dummies - for 20 levels of questing I never had any problems with power, but against the training dummies, I ran out of power quite quickly. I tried changing my rotation, but although it affected the DPS quite a lot, I still ran out of power. So, I repeated the exercise for each trait line 3x dual-wielding and 3x with a two-hander and recorded the set of results with the highest average DPS below in 3 minutes or until I received a notification: "Not enough Power."

    Here are my DPS results while dual-wielding (collected with CombatAnalysis plugin):

    StatisticsThe Martial Champion (Blue)The Berserker (Red)The Deadly Storm (Yellow)
    Damage7424660112281
    Time1 m 41.6 s1 m 12.5 s1 m 30.7 s
    Average DPS73.091.0135.4
    Minimum Hit151715
    Average Hit42.462.343.5
    Maximum Hit115484248
    Attacks175106282
    APS1.71.53.1
    Critical Strikes (%)29 (16.6%)22 (20.8%)54 (19.1%)
    Power (%)35/1000 (3.5%)18/1000 (1.8%)11/1000 (1.1%)
    Skill Priorities:
    1. Blade Wall
    2. Savage Strikes
    3. Wild Attack
    4. Swift Strike
    1. Remorseless Strike
    2. Devastating Strike
    3. Wild Attack
    4. Swift Strike
    1. Battle Frenzy
    2. Blade Storm
    3. Savage Strikes
    4. Rend
    5. Wild Attack
    6. Swift Strike

    Here are my DPS results with a 2H-sword (collected with CombatAnalysis plugin):

    StatisticsThe Martial Champion (Blue)The Berserker (Red)The Deadly Storm (Yellow)
    Damage5928623710036
    Time1 m 39.1 s1 m 9.7 s1 m 22.7 s
    Average DPS59.889.5121.3
    Minimum Hit364215
    Average Hit68.1107.557.3
    Maximum Hit145645332
    Attacks8758175
    APS0.90.82.1
    Critical Strikes (%)21 (24.1%)11 (19.0%)29 (16.6%)
    Power (%)16/1000 (1.6%)30/1000 (3.0%)40/1000 (4.0%)
    Skill Priorities:
    1. Blade Wall
    2. Savage Strikes
    3. Wild Attack
    4. Swift Strike
    1. Remorseless Strike
    2. Devastating Strike
    3. Wild Attack
    4. Swift Strike
    1. Battle Frenzy
    2. Blade Storm
    3. Savage Strikes
    4. Rend
    5. Wild Attack
    6. Swift Strike

    I was interested to compare dual-wielding and two-handed DPS because there's an ongoing debate about which is better. At level 20, dual-wielding had consistently higher average DPS and maintained power for slightly longer than using a two-handed weapon. Yellow line maintained power for longer than red line, but I suspect the yellow line damage and DPS numbers are inflated because there was another training dummy next to the one I was attacking that also got hit by the AOE attacks. I might need to find a new location for testing in future.

    General Observations


    Champions don't get a skill to remove debuffs until much later, so potions to remove disease, fear, wounds and poison may be helpful to have on hand, and try to get some virtues to increase your resistances.

    There seems to be few utility or survival abilities available before level 20, but more should become available at higher levels, such as a sprint, heal, power regeneration and interrupts.

    At higher levels, it will be worthwhile investing some points in other trait trees. For example, Red and Blue lines will probably want to get Battle Frenzy (to boost fervour) from Yellow line, while Red and Yellow lines will probably want to get Second Wind (to boost power) from Blue line.

    Good gear and weapons will make it much easier to survive and kill mobs quickly.

    Specialisations

    Blue - The Martial Champion: I did feel safer player this spec, but it was slower and didn't hit very hard. Perhaps if you're finding it difficult to survive in red or yellow, or if you're playing with someone else and want to be more tanky to protect them, this may be an option, but overall I wouldn't recommend it for levelling.

    Red - The Berserker: This is a good spec for taking on bosses and elite mobs, but it seems to be more niche than yellow line. You could level in this spec, but fighting a group of mobs may be painful until higher levels when you have more abilities. Overall, I think this is a good back-up spec for situational use while levelling.

    Yellow - The Deadly Storm: I love how fast and versatile this spec is. With Battle Frenzy, you build up fervour quickly and can use your heavy-hitting fervour spenders often. You can take on a single mob or a group of mobs with ease and it's satisfying watching them all fall at your feet at once. Just keep an eye on improving your gear and defensive stats so that you don't get crushed under your enemies' feet. Overall, this is a fun spec for levelling.

    Stats

    • Might - your main stat that increases damage
    • Morale and vitality - increases survivability
    • Critical strike rating - increases damage (particularly valuable for red line)
    • Mitigations and resistances - reduces damage taken

    These stats should help make the levelling process a bit easier in the beginning. Look for heavy armour with might and maybe some jewellery with critical strike rating. Morale is always helpful (vitality also increases morale). The best place to get mitigations and resistances at low level is probably from virtues.

    Here are some virtues that may be helpful for Champions and how to get them by level 20:

    VirtueActivityDeed
    INNOCENCE

    (physical mitigation, tactical mitigation, resistance)
    Complete 75 quests in The ShireLife of a Bounder (Final)(The Shire)
    COMPASSION

    (physical mitigation, tactical mitigation, non-combat power regeneration)
    Complete 15 quests in The Shire

    Complete 20 quests in Ered Luin
    Life of a Bounder (The Shire)

    Defender of Ered Luin (Ered Luin)
    DISCIPLINE

    (might, physical mitigation, resistance)
    Defeat 90 wolves in Ered Luin

    Defeat 60 hendrovail in Ered Luin

    Defeat 60 sickle-flies in Bree-land
    Wolf-slayer (Advanced)(Ered Luin)

    Hendroval-slayer (Advanced)(Ered Luin)

    Sickle-fly Slayer (Advanced)(Bree-land)
    PATIENCE

    (physical mitigation, resistance, in-combat power regeneration)
    Explore Dwarven settlements in Ered Luin

    Retrieve spoiled pies in The Shire

    Deliver mail between settlements in The Shire

    Explore the ruins of Bree-land

    Explore the Barrow-downs in Bree-land
    Places of the Dwarves (Ered Luin)

    No Place for Spoiled Pies (The Shire)

    Restoring the Quick Post (The Shire)

    The Ruins of Bree-land (Bree-land)

    The Barrow-downs (Bree-land)
    ZEAL

    (morale, physical mitigation, armour)
    Defeat 90 goblins in Ered Luin

    Defeat 90 spiders in Ered Luin

    Defeat 90 Barrow-spiders in Bree-land
    Goblin-slayer (Advanced)(Ered Luin)

    Spider-slayer (Advanced)(Ered Luin)

    Brood-hunter (Advanced)(Bree-land)
    HONOUR

    (resistance, tactical mitigation, vitality)
    Defeat 60 spiders in The Shire

    Defeat 90 spiders in Bree-land
    Spider-slayer (Advanced)(The Shire)

    Spider-slayer (Advanced)(Bree-land)
    FIDELITY

    (tactical mitigation, vitality, power)
    Explore landmarks in The Shire

    Explore Dourhand strongholds in Ered Luin
    The Sights of the Shire (The Shire)

    Scouting the Dourhands (Ered Luin)

    Pros of the Champion Class

    • Good AOE damage
    • Various melee playstyles (DW/2H, ST/AOE, DPS/Tank)
    • Fast-paced combat

    Cons of the Champion Class

    • Limited ranged abilities
    • Limited utility and survival skills
    • Power management

    I hope this has been helpful. Feel free to leave any questions or advice for new champions in the comments below.

    Coming soon in the Introducing X Class series: the Guardian.