Heroes Reborn – Mini-review

Heroes Reborn
I recently finished watching Heroes Reborn, and afterwards read a few reviews and articles on it. They seemed undeservedly harsh, so I thought I’d write up a few of my own thoughts on the show.

Here’s a short spoiler-free review for anyone who’s not seen the show yet, and is wondering if it’s for them or not.

Heads-Up Review (Spoiler Free)

Heroes Reborn is set in the Heroes universe a few years after the end of the last series of Heroes. However the only character who is as prominent in Reborn as in the original is Noah Bennett. Some other well-loved characters from the original series do also feature in Reborn, but they have significant screen-time for only a few episodes at most, and some only have small cameos. I won’t tell you who appears, as seeing some of my old favorites turning up unexpectedly was one of the most delightful things about the show.

I found Heroes Reborn a little hard to get into at the beginning, though that could just be me, as I have often had the same problem with other shows. There are a lot of characters to take in, and it wasn’t that easy to remember who people were, to figure out why they were doing what they were doing, understand who was working with whom etc etc. To be honest, between being confused about what was going on and being disappointed by the lack of familiar characters, I nearly gave up on the show early on. But I persisted with it, and I’m glad I did.

After a while things came together, the main plotline kicked in, and the show started to make sense. Also we started seeing some of the old faces, and so I was reassured that this was not going to be an all-new cast and story, completely disconnected from what had gone before.

The series reached its peak in mid-season, especially the two-parter called “June the 13th”. The plot developments were superb, and some of the strongest I can remember in any sci-fi show. A whole series of those “Oh wow! Of course!” moments when a lot of mystifying threads suddenly make total, surprising sense. And with plenty of emotional punch too.

The latter part of the series was a bit more routine, but no worse than any other “save the world from disaster” climaxes that are so common in shows like The Flash.

Overall, I’d say Heroes Reborn is one of the best seasons of Heroes, and certainly on a par with many well-liked contemporary shows. If you loved Heroes Season 1, you’ll probably get a kick out of Heroes Reborn. You might need a bit of patience with the early parts though.

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LOTRO: Quest Pack Recommendations

Quest Pack Sale

This week there is a 50% sale on LOTRO Quest Packs! (Note – the headline on the linked sale page says it’s only a 20% sale, but the body says 50%, and the prices in TP back up the 50%-off figure. The picture above is a screenshot of the actual store prices today.)

Back before I had all the packs I used to love sales like this, and look forward to them. But in the early days when I didn’t have a lot of TP to spare it was always a conundrum which packs to get next. How would I know which I’d enjoy without trying them? Of course I Googled around, and checked out what info I could find to help me.

Now that I’ve been around a bit more, and seen a lot of the content for myself, I thought I’d offer my own brief reviews and recommendations for the latest generation of LOTRO players.

List of Quests Packs

Here’s the list of Quest Packs from the ever helpful Lotro Wiki, along with their regular prices and the level range they’re for.

Quest Packs LOTRO Wiki

I needed the list to refresh my memory, and make sure I did them all in a sensible order!

Level 30-40

Your options are North Downs, Trollshaws and Evendim.

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Evendim is highly recommended. It has a huge amount of content, an interesting storyline, some fantastic scenery, and a bit of lighter fun stuff. There’s so much there that I ran three or four characters through the zone before I’d done everything there is to do. A few highlights worth mentioning:

  • The ruined city of Annuminas is crawling with invading forces from Angmar while being defended by the rangers. Lots of challenging fights to figure out how to win. At first there don’t seem to be a lot of quests there, but there’s one that gives you a ranger companion and then lots of quests open up from that.

  • There’s a hobbit at the glass-blowers’ camp who is an in-game tribute to Tolkien himself. I’ll leave you to find out more.

  • Nothcotton Farm makes a nice change from combat quests. You can gain a whole level just helping them get everything ready for the market day. Be warned, first time I tried to do it I got so frustrated at getting lost in the maze-like farm complex I gave up. Second time I made a map to figure out the layout, and had fun seeing how fast and efficiently I could tick things off. Now I always enjoy taking an alt there.

  • You get three scalable instances, and they’re good ones. I don’t see them being run too often mind you.

North Downs was revamped earlier this year, and I haven’t run it since then, so some of what I’m going to say may not apply any more. (Anyone who’s done it recently, please add your thoughts in the comments.)

Overall I found North Downs pretty disappointing. The area didn’t have too much of a distinct character, the stories didn’t add up to anything coherent, and the quest flow didn’t make a lot of sense. A few things that ND does have going for it…

  • You can go there in the low 20s, so if you’ve already done Lone Lands enough times and want a change, ND is the other option.
  • You get the Fornost instance cluster. There are four scalable instances, though you might have trouble finding a group to do them because I don’t see them being run very often. Personally I also like soloing instances, but you need to have high-level chars for that.

  • There are a lot of deeds to be had to help with getting your virtues, and being a relatively low-level zone, the slayer deeds are less painful to do here than in most places.

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Trollshaws was also revamped earlier in the year, so the same caveat applies – some things may have changed since I last ran it.

I’d say Trollshaws is more enjoyable than North Downs, but not as good overall as Evendim. Some of the upsides of the region:

  • You get to hang out in Rivendell. And while you’re there, you can play some games of riddles with Bilbo Baggins himself. If you love your Tolkien lore as much as me, that alone might be reason enough to get the Trollshaws!
  • There’s some good questing at the higher end of the zone around Tal Bruinen.

  • Music and scenery are very good in this zone.

On the downside, Trollshaws is a region that is very hard to get around. The map is almost useless, and I spend a lot of time getting lost and backtracking. And that’s even after having been through the zone several times on different characters. Even when you don’t get lost, you spend far too much time getting to quest objectives.

It also seems to be a very hard region in which to complete deeds or get reputation. Part of the reason for that is that you don’t get any instances with this quest pack, so none of the kills and rep that you might get from instance runs.

My Recommendation

Overall, if you’re only going to get one region in this level range, I’d say Evendim is the standout choice. Trollshaws comes next, and North Downs is for when you’re looking to complete your collection.

Level 40-50

This is the hardest level range to make your choices, not least because there are four regions to choose from:

  • Angmar covers the whole range from 40-50
  • Misty Mountains used to cover the whole range, but was revamped earlier this year and now seems to cover just 40-45.
  • Forochel covers 44-50
  • Eregion covers 45-50

Angmar has big pluses and big minuses.

The biggest minus is that since the place is basically Mordor-lite, hanging out there for any length of time is liable to get you down. It’s dark, desolate, devoid of greenery, and crawling with nasty creatures. And no sky should look like that.

On the plus side, there is a heck of a lot of content, and plenty for all tastes and playstyles. That includes so many good instances that I struggle to remember them all. Urugarth and Carn Dum in particular are some of the best instances of all time. Sadly they haven’t been made scalable yet, apparently because Turbine has yet to figure out how to do that while still keeping their original flavor which people like so much. But if you like doing instances then I’d say definitely get Angmar.

If you’re going to do the Epic you’re going to spend a lot of time in Angmar anyway, so that’s another reason to get the zone. While you’re there, you might as well quest, and rack up deeds. (And the Angmar part of the Epic is one of the best parts of all, so if you’ve not done it before, it’s highly recommended not to skip it.)

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Misty Mountains was also revamped this year. Again I’ve not re-run it since the changes, but this time I’m more worried that the changes will have taken away what I loved about the zone than I’m wondering how much they improved things. Anyone who knows more, please do comment.

Pluses of the zone, as it was:

  • Nice mountain environment, with snowstorms and such.
  • It’s hard to figure out how to get around through the mountain passes, but very satisfying once you do. Unlike Trollshaws, once you discover your way around it’s fairly easy to remember and find it again the next time.

  • Goblintown. Opinions were mixed on this place, some people loved it, some hated it. I was one of those that loved it. The people who hated it found it too hard and too confusing. For the confusing part, you definitely need a really good map. As for the hard part, I think it was made with duos and trios in mind, and it’s fun to do that way. Like a lot of small group content it is also very enjoyable to solo if you like a challenge, especially if you’re playing a class that can cope well with crowds. Sneaking around with a burg is a blast!

  • There’s some Tolkien lore, via meeting Gloin and from exploring Goblintown. Who wouldn’t want to find Gollum’s Cave? (Not that it was easy to find!)

  • As far as I can remember you only get one instance, the Goblintown Throne Room, but it’s a good one. A lot of it can be done in a trio or even solo, though it is officially a full fellowship instance.

I understand the Misty Mountains changes have made the zone a lot easier, reduced the level of the mobs in there, and added easier travel options. Some might like it that way, but I’m not sure on that. One day I’ll go back and see.

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Forochel is very pretty. The Northern Lights that are often playing there are wonderful, and sometimes it’s more tempting to just gawp at them than to do any questing.

Overall there are some nice storylines and some good questing in Forochel, but the main downside is that there’s just less content than elsewhere. Which includes a total lack of instances with this pack. It feels a bit unfinished, like a good TV show that was inexplicably canceled before it got to the finale.

Eregion is a sort of middling zone, with nothing either outstanding nor anything horrible about it. In theory it should be a lore-fest, but the opportunity has mostly been missed. I’d have loved to hear all about the Noldorin elves who once lived there, and made the three Elven rings.

The high points for me are:

  • There’s a quest to save Bill the pony from wargs.
  • You get two scalable small fellowship instances, known to all as “School” and “Library”. They’re good instances, are pretty quick to do, and give good rewards. That might be why they still seem to be popular to this day, and you probably won’t have a hard time getting a group for them.

My Recommendations

In summary, in this level range there are pros and cons to each of the options depending on what you most like to do, and what you most want to avoid. Personally I’d say get Angmar as the default choice. It’s by far the most bang for your TP buck, and has fab instances. If you can’t bear to hang out in all that gloom for so long, pair it with one of the others for a change of scene.

After that, Misty Mountains and Forochel both have a lot going for them. Unless you like to play instances often, in which case Eregion has the edge.

What about Level 50+?

I’m not going to give you my thoughts on the quest packs above level 50 in this post. I might well do that another time, but there are a couple of reasons to skip them for now:

1) This is already a rather long post… at the rate I write I may never get finished! Or everyone will have already spent their hard earned TP, and my recommendations for the sale will be moot!

2) Over level 50, there aren’t that many choices of what to get at any given level. Basically you will want to get Moria, Mirkwood, Isengard and Rohan, because that is the main path through the game. The other packs were originally added to keep people going in-between expansions, and for anyone that doesn’t have them yet, they are somewhat of a sideline. Enjoyable maybe, but not the priority if you don’t have TP to throw around.

Final Thoughts

By now I have all the quest packs, and I don’t regret getting any of them. Unless maybe I regret that I don’t have enough time to play through all the good stuff that I’ve got!

While I mentioned various irritations and frustrations with some of the zones, if you like LOTRO you’ll probably find lots to enjoy in each zone. But I do remember what it was like when I was first getting into the game, and especially at sale time, when I was tempted this way and that, but didn’t have a lot to spend. I hope my recs will help people that are where I was a couple of years ago.

As for the old LOTRO hands, I hope you found the post entertaining. If you feel like vehemently disagreeing, wantonly agreeing, or just want to add something, esp about the updated zones, please do!

I’d love to know what zones are your favorites and your pet hates too.

Book Review: The Farseer Trilogy

My MMO Hiatus

I haven’t been spending much time in MMOs lately, probably not since mid-December. I did spend a fair bit of time with The Secret World after I got it around Black Friday, and enjoyed that. I also picked up Helm’s Deep when it was 50% off in December, and I have checked in with that from time to time as well, but I haven’t really got stuck into leveling up there.

It’s not that I’m disenchanted with my MMOs, more that there are always other things happening at that time of year. And also that sometime in November I started on a book series, and reading has taken up a lot of my free R&R time since then.

I’ve read eight books in my reading spree now. Here’s a review of the the first trilogy…

The Farseer Trilogy

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Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin and Assassin’s Quest make up what is usually referred to as the Farseer Trilogy. The Farseers are the royal family of the Six Duchies, and the novels are centered on an illegitimate son of that family, Fitz, and written in the first person from his point of view.

Fitz is of course the assassin of the titles, but don’t let the word “assassin” color your impressions too much. He gets trained as an assassin, but he doesn’t do a whole lot of assassinating in the novels. I won’t tell you too much more about assassinations or lack thereof so as avoid spoilers, but if you get excited by the idea of novels about an assassin you’ll probably end up disappointed. On the other hand if that idea puts you off, don’t be put off! There’s a whole lot more in these novels about political intrigues and family loyalties than there is about assassination.

These are fantasy novels, but of a gritty semi-realistic type. For long stretches the fantasy and magic element is very low key, and they could almost be historical novels during those stretches. If dragons are mentioned in the books, you can’t be sure if there really are any actual dragons in this world, if there were once but not any more, or if they’re just completely folklore and myth, like they are in our real world.

The series works well as fantasy with interesting world-building, strong characters and gripping plots that keep you wanting to know what happens next. But their greatest strength might be the powerful human and philosophical themes that run through them and make them a bit more than just lightweight entertainment.

One theme is Fitz’s loneliness and lack of belonging. He’s not really a royal or even an aristocrat, but he can never really be a commoner either. On top of that he has many secrets, of which his covert role as an assassin is only one. And keeping secrets comes between him and other people, including the woman he loves.

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A second theme is responsibilities and sacrifices. People have to choose between the life they’d like to live for themselves, and the duties that come with their birth and position. Royal marriages are about alliances and politics and what is good for the kingdom more than what you might feel for your potential spouse. Fitz himself would probably have been happiest leaving the court behind, setting up home with his love somewhere, and living a simple life as farmer or craftsman. But he’s taken oaths to the king, and the kingdom faces dangerous times.

A third theme which eventually emerges is fate and destiny. There are prophecies, but in this world you can’t really be sure if prophecies are true any more than if dragons are real. And even if they are, they don’t come true without people making them come true.

One of the marks of serious novels, particularly compared to typical genre novels, is that they connect back to your own life. They give you food for thought about how you’ve lived your life, your own relationships, the dilemmas and choices that are facing you, and so on. At times the Farseer Trilogy does do that for me.

I’ll warn you that there are some weaknesses to these books too. For one they are rather long, and get longer as the series goes on. They could have been trimmed a fair bit, leaving out various plot twists and subplots, and been all the better for it. Sometimes there are just too many chains of twists and sidetracks, and you wish you could just get on with the main story already.

I said earlier that the novels were “semi-realistic”. Part of what I meant by that is that there are many rich, deep, believable characters… but from time to time they also do unbelievable things that seem preposterous and entirely out of character. For instance sometimes major characters who’ve narrowly survived an attempt on their life and know exactly who plotted against them don’t do a darn thing about it. Not to protect themselves in future, not to strike back against the people that tried to kill them, nothing – in fact carrying on pretty much as if nothing had happened. In a less realistic novel that might jar less, but here you’re spending chunks of the novel thinking: “Gah! – no-one would be this stupid – especially not X.”

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Also the main villain is not very well rounded at all. He doesn’t go about cackling evilly and going “Mwahahahaha!” but he’s almost that unsubtle and caricatured.

Overall the novels are enjoyable and worth persevering with through the rough parts. The themes and plot strands do all come together at the end, and much of the latter part of Assassin’s Quest is powerful, moving, even haunting. There are things about these books that I will remember for a very long time, flawed though they are.

If you want a star rating, I’ll say 4 stars.