My last article about Lord of the Rings Online focused on the solo activities one could undertake in Middle Earth. This article will focus on the "Multiplayer" part of the MMO acronym… probably what the rest of you play these games for.
I didn't talk about the dungeon instances at all in my previous posts. That's because I didn't really run many of them. I know, ironic given that my main character was a support class. I seem to assume a singleplayer stance until I feel confident enough to group up with others and know I'll be valuable to them. Maybe I'm just too proud to risk being that guy that doesn't know what he's doing and gets everyone killed.
This second time through I'm running far more dungeons. But it's not because I'm more confident, it's because they've implemented instance level scaling. You can now run the Great Barrows with any group from 20 to the level cap of 65. This makes it far easier to find a group, and far easier to balance the difficulty for a group's skill level (if it's too hard, just reduce the target level one or two). The instances have also been broken up into multiple shorter sections, making it less of a time commitment to do a run. Considering that LotRO has an older crowd these are very important concessions.
It's unfortunate that the game still lacks a quality matchmaking service (like WoW's new Dungeon Finder). There's an in-game tool (pictured above), but nobody uses it (similar to earlier incarnations of woW's Dungeon Finder). Instead you're stuck relying on either regional chat channels, or the unofficial global "looking for fellowship" channel. I'd assume that fixing this problem would be the natural next step for the development team, but I also felt the same way about WoW and it took them five years to deliver the feature. And unfortunately I have far less confidence in LotRO's interface designers. It'd greatly improve the experience, but I'm not holding my breath.
Level scaling for instance is a actually a new feature for the game. It came about as a side effect of development for something else entirely: skirmishes. Where a dungeon instance is a handcrafted adventure, a skirmish is more of a random large scale battle. There's some overall scenario, but every time you play a skirmish it will be different. There are varied squads of enemies, random lieutenants, and boss battles.
One of the best parts about skirmishes is that you get a companion character to go into battle with you. You can customize the class and powers of this character, and level them up over time, but you don't get much tactical control once it's time to fight. This helps makes the battles larger (a 12 player raid actually results in 24 combatants on your side) as well as rounding out your weaknesses (you can spec your companion to heal you while you focus on dishing out pain). The whole skirmish system scales to different party levels and sizes (you can even do skirmishes solo, with just you and your companion). It's all very flexible.
I wouldn't recommend only spending your time playing skirmishes, but in moderation they're great. It's best with a big group of people for good chaotic fun, but it's also good times just by yourself.
"I only tried it once"
I still haven't tried it since that one time. And you know what, it looks like it'll stay that way. There are only a few things that are restricted to paying subscribers , and PvMP (Player vs. Monster Player) is one of them. So if I want to play a Warg and go for the throats of poor little Hobbits I'll have to shell out a monthly fee. Sad. Oh well, I don't think the Lord of the Rings setting is one that would really fire me up to pwn other players. It's probably for the best.
Next time I'll be talking about the game's combat system as well as ranting more about the user interface.