After all the problems that players ran into last Tuesday during the Siege of Mirkwood Preview/Stress Test, Turbine decided to open Bullroarer (the test server) to all players again this weekend. I jumped on tonight and sure enough, Skirmishes were working like a charm.
I wasted no time in going through the Skirmish Tutorial, which comes in two parts. In part 1 you begin outside the south gate of Bree, and have to liberate the gate, then the Auction House, and then Bill Ferny’s house. But before you do that, the Second Watcher gives you a Horn you can use to summon help. The horn is a skill, not an inventory item, and it basically summons your soldier, who at this point is a kind of generic man-at-arms.
Once you have him at the ready, off you go to take on a few pretty easy fights, and soon enough you will have liberated south Bree. Part two of the tutorial is the defense of the Prancing Pony. Before you begin this battle, you can talk to a couple of NPCs. One sells you a soldier trait, and the other is a Skirmish Bard which lets you slot that trait. You get a Warrior Trait, so buy it (for free), slot it (for free as well) and then summon a soldier, who’ll now be a Tier 1 Warrior.
This is a defensive battle as you fight off three waves of mobs. Skirmish mobs don’t drop much; at least I saw no random loot. If they do drop something it’ll either be a temporary item that gives you a buff (use it or lose it; it disappears at the end of the skirmish) or coin and some kind of Skirmish Mark.
This is a fun little battle. It’s really neat seeing Bree under a heavy snowfall. The challenge rating isn’t very high but this *is* the tutorial after all. After you’ve completed it, you’ll travel back to the Skirmish Camp (by the way, I should point out that I took the Skirmish Tutorial outside of Bree but you can take it from any Skirmish Camp; I’m not sure if other camps send you into different tutorial skirmishes) where you’ll finally finish the tutorial, opening up the Skirmish System as well as the Skirmish Vendors.
And wow, do those vendors have some nice stuff. Everything from rare crafting materials (shards and such) to armor or weapons for general use, to new Traits for your soldier, to house items and cosmetic items for your soldier. You buy all this stuff using Skirmish Marks.
I opted to buy an Herbalist Trait for my soldier. Once I slotted this trait, plus some skill traits, I had a capable healer to follow me around in a skirmish (I was playing a Champion so a healer seemed a natural choice).
It was time to try my first “real” skirmish, and I picked a Solo Level 40, Tier 1 skirmish on Weathertop. Gandalf’s battle with the Nine has drawn evil things to this place, and you have to aid the Ranger stationed there in protecting the area. I don’t want to go into too many details because half the fun is experiencing these things first hand.
I will, however, say that it was an awful lot of fun for me. And I’ll rile the haters up by saying it was particularly fun for someone who always solos. Between the Ranger (who aids you) and my healer minion, I had half a fellowship, which meant for once I could use all those Champion skills that are generally pointless when soloing (Challenges/Taunts) or that I never use due to shortness of solo battles (lots of the AoE melee attacks).
There are Lieutenant mobs that show up now and then, and some of them were pretty epic, at least to someone level 40. And there was (simple) stuff to do beyond just fighting.
The rewards for completing the skirmish were pretty generous. Maybe too generous. 75 silvers and between the tutorial and this one skirmish I had enough Skirmish Marks to buy a piece of heavy armor or a weapon better than what I was using. 75 silver is more than I pay for a week’s rent on my cottage! So 1 skirmish = weekly rent with some left over to spend on wine and wenches? Sign me up!
Siege of Mirkwood launches on Dec. 1st and I’m sure by Dec. 2nd people will be whining about “grinding marks” because, let’s face it, MMO players are a whiny bunch. And if you’re some kind of crazy completionist and want to buy everything you can as soon as you can, then yup, you’re going to be doing a LOT of skirmishes because there is a *ton* of stuff to buy. Maybe its time to get some counseling for that OCD!
But the system should be a dream for ‘normal’ players. I love that there’s good stuff to buy after just doing a couple battles, but there’re also some really nice, very expensive items that will take some time to obtain. Setting and achieving personal goals adds so much to these games, at least for me. I’m really looking forward to playing “for keeps” once Mirkwood launches. This (I assume) is just the beginning of what they’ll do with this system.
I have a few images from the tutorials. I was so engrossed in the one ‘real’ skirmish I took part in that I forgot to take any shots!
[Update: Oh, I forgot to mention this. When I reported on Tuesday's Preview Program I said the combat changes made my Champion look like he was going into convulsions at times. I did not see this effect last night, so perhaps the problem Tuesday night was due to lag (which was awful for me when I was playing).]