Friday, March 18, 2011

LotRO Revisited - Part 2 - Keeping Busy

The last post focused on the world of Lord of the Rings Online, because that's the first thing you'll see and care about.  This post delves into the details of what to do within that world, once again comparing to my various quotes from three years ago.

Advancement - Deeds, Traits, and Levels

"It's impressive how enticing the deed system is considering how minor the effect is on gameplay."

I was a fan of the deed system right away.  But the more time I've spent with it, the more impressed I've become.  It's much better than an achievement system.  It's a sophisticated layered incentive system that will keep you coming back for the silliest little things.

I've never found myself playing a game like this and doing so many things that give me no experience.  That's a testament to how compelling completing these deeds can be.  Sure, I could go do more quests and level-up... but it might be more fun to just poke around and find these ruins in order to get another rank on my Wisdom virtue.  Oh and while I'm there maybe I can kill enough brigands to earn a title and maybe an upgrade in my Justice rank.

Having variety in this sort of game is a really good thing.  I'm not exactly sure why it is that choose we spend our leisure time being overwhelmed with too many things to do.  Maybe it's because these are things we can actually accomplish and check off our list?  Regardless, it's a good thing to feel like there are lots of valid ways to spend your time.  There are deeds for finding landmarks, killing specific types of baddies, completing quests in an area, using specific abilities a lot… you complete deeds constantly.  Sometimes you get a title, sometimes you get a virtue rank (which can be slotted for a little stat boost), and always you get a couple Turbine Points (the real money currency of the game).  It's just fundamentally more exciting than your average completionist-focused achievement.

"And as that the monsters in each region go up in level with me, it's not like I ever get the satisfaction of feeling more powerful.  So what are the levels buying me?"

I kind of went off on a mini rant about whether levels are really helping anything (perhaps derived from this article from Raph Koster).  It's not that I think levels are bad, it's more that I think perhaps they represent too strict of a divide.  I joined a group of fellow adventurers to run some content five levels above me, and I was useless to them.  At least half of my attacks missed.   I should be less powerful than them, sure; but what seemed like a small numerical spread apparently represented total incompatibility.  Is that fun?

This complaint isn't leveled at LotRO but the MMO genre as a whole.  I think the only game I've played where this wasn't a problem was City of Heroes, where effective player level could be bumped up or down while in a group.  This meant that the pool of people to play with was actually everyone online.  Extremely liberating.  I wish more games thought harder about how to unite players instead of separate them.  Oh well.


"Pretty standard MMO fare"

Yep, the quest design in LotRO is status quo.  Kill X Angry Baddies; gather X McGuffins; escort helpless Mr. X.  The flow of quests has seen a definite improvement over the past couple years (less back-and-forth than I remember), but there isn't a terrible amount of variety in what it is you do.  And this would be more of a problem if there weren't lots of other things to do that aren't strictly quests.  There are deeds and tasks and skirmishes to fill up your time.  It's easy to truck along and forget about your quest log for awhile, so it doesn't really bother me that the quests are vanilla.

"There's a primary story quest line that adheres to a higher quality bar, letting you follow the path of the ring without contradicting the fiction. "

The game has always had this quest line that connects you with the big names in the Lord of the Rings fiction.  You meet Strider in Bree, you'll track down Black Riders, you'll rendezvous with the Fellowship in Rivendell and go hunting with Gimli and Legolas.  It's great stuff.  But the problem was that it required an extremely varied mix of solo, small fellowship, and instance quests in order to progress through the books.  It was very hard to find the help you needed to work through the whole epic quest line.  But since I last played the developers have gone through and tightened up the experience so that the whole storyline can be played solo.  This makes it so that everyone can enjoy their best content, a smart move.


I'm not positive, but I think Tasks exist because someone realized that there needed to be something for non-subscription players to do if they weren't willing to pay for quest packs.  Tasks are repeatable quests that use the junk you'd normally sell to vendors.  So instead of trashing that "Orcish Tea Cozy" you could instead turn it in for a small amount of experience and reputation.  It's not glamorous, but I think the effect on the game is quite positive.  It turns an uninteresting part of the game into a decision: do I prioritize experience growth or economic growth?  The repeatable quests are gated to five per day, so if you're going to turn this crap into experience it'll take some storage space and patience.  If you'd rather just have the cash now you can sell them all as before.  It's a simple clever system that basically has no downsides for the player.


I don't think anyone would consider the crafting system a critical feature for MMO.  It's exclusion probably wouldn't cause anyone to pass on a game, but every MMO still seems to have one.  LotRO has a perfectly passable crafting system that even has a fair share of innovative ideas.  Like others it probably economically makes more sense to sell everything you find and buy crafted goods from others, but the system is there for those who enjoy this sort of thing.  I think I'm one of them, but I'm always wondering if I really do or if I just feel compelled to participate.

"Unfortunately finding recipes on the auction house is laughably difficult due to poor UI."

The auction system categories are constantly getting refined, which does make the experience better.  It's easier to drill into the right recipe section, for example.  However it feels to me like they're going about it wrong.  Maybe it's just the fact that they put Usable as a sort instead of a checkbox.  This makes it fussy to do something perfectly reasonable like find cheap upgrades for your current gear.  Ah, but this is a complaint with the interface.  The mechanics of recipes are perfectly fine.  I like the one-use recipes, I like how you can sometimes choose different output flavors, and I of course like the nice surprise of the crafting critical that gives you an awesomer version.

"the game lacks a friendly way to craft in bulk (I should never have to click a plus button 60 times just to smelt all my ore). "

Fixed!  I'm not sure why it took so long to add a "Make All" button.  Oh, again this was an interface complaint.  It's almost like there's a trend here...  More on that later.

"In my experience the stuff you can make is generally not of value by the time you can make it (given either the time to gather ingredients or the prohibitive cost of those ingredients on the auction house)."

Aha!  A real comment on crafting.  Well, it's worth saying that I'm having a little better luck with my second character's crafting experience.  Knowing the basics of the system helps you plan ahead.  I've definitely been able to create good upgrades for myself without having to spend too much time rounding up the ingredients.  Part of this was knowing to stop screwing around on the auction house and just vendor trash certain professions' components.  I'm sorry scholars and cooks, but you're not willing to pay enough to make it worth the trouble.

Another thing that's contributed to a smoother experience is the introduction of Bounty quests.  These are three times repeatable quests that reward you with a big pile of crafting ingredients and patterns.  This helps take a bit of the pressure off of rounding up some of the more obscure components.

Overall I think I like LotRO's crafting system.  It gives me something else to do besides obsessively leveling, and that's probably for the best.


Next up, stuff to do with other people.  Yes, the 'M' of MMO.  Um, more specifically the second 'M'.

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