All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given us

I’ve not logged into LotRO in a month or so, and I’m seriously considering unsubscribing.  That’s a sad truth and one with several core causes.

Before explaining why though, I must repeat that I feel LotRO is one of the finest, if not the very finest, PvE experiences available.  The world is lovely, the epic quests very well written and immersive, and the crafting is the best I’ve encountered in an MMO.  It’s a fine, fine game, and one I’ve enjoyed a great deal.  I’m excited about a lot of the concepts coming in the Siege of Mirkwood, and yet on the cusp of this new content I’m considering leaving.  What then troubles me so much?

Really, I have two core complaints, one of which is far greater than the other.  The lesser complaint is about how legendary items work, and the greater complaint is about content gating.  I’ll approach each in turn.

The fundamental idea behind legendary items seems excellent – characters gain items that can grow with them over time, which makes those items more a “part” of the character.  Frodo didn’t toss away Sting and upgrade to a better dagger, and Gandalf didn’t replace Glamdring with a slightly sharper and shinier sword… those items were extraordinary and remained with the owners.  The reality of how Turbine has implemented legendary items flies in the face of this basic concept though.  While the items do grow and change over time, they’re also EXTREMELY disposable.  My lvl 60 Champion went through probably hundreds of weapons to get the ones he now uses, breaking down one failure after another until he got the traits he sought.  On a basic level, this makes no sense to me, and it certainly doesn’t fit the lore.  Did Aragorn destroy weapon after weapon, keeping the choice relics to reforge them into Anduril?

The legendary item system is being revamped with the Mirkwood expansion, but the fundamental concept remains; it’s a timesink and nothing more.  The designers decided that players should seek to obtain myriads of weapons, then break them down into components to use in upgrading yet other weapons.  The legendary items drop at a high rate of frequency, meaning they don’t truly feel all that legendary… and considering how we treat them, obviously they aren’t especially notable in-character either.  I can’t sustain any level of immersion here, and don’t really like playing the lottery again and again and again and again until I finally get a weapon that fits my needs… knowing as I do that I’ll just replace it with a new weapon once the expansion hits.

More gravely troubling though is the content gating system introduced with the Moria expansion.  I played the original LotRO, Shadows of Angmar (SoA), into the ground.  I had 4 level 50 characters and 3 more characters lvl 35-49.  That’s out of seven classes available mind you, with a level cap of 50.  One of the very best things about LotRO was how casual-accessible it was.  Even when I wasn’t playing it casually, it wasn’t because I had no choice.  Items could be obtained from crafting, random drops, quests, PvP, and bosses, and by and large each route brought one to the same place.  I felt I had a lot of freedom to play the way I wanted to, and I explored each of those paths happily in my own time and in my own manner.

At its core, SoA was completely open and lacked any sort of gear gating.  If you were high enough level to visit a dungeon, you could go there, and providing you had enough skill, you could defeat the challenges.  There were a handful of dungeons that offered some of the best gear in game, true, but you didn’t NEED to visit those dungeons if you didn’t want to.  You could go to Urugarth and never set foot in Carn Dum.  You could visit Barad Guluran without having first visited Sarnur and Haudh Iarchith.  You could even go to the most difficult two instances in game, Helegrod and the Rift, without ever having been into a single other instance in game, and again, you could do fine there provided you played your class well.

With the Moria expansion though this changed fundamentally, and for the worse.  Now there’s a gear-gating system, whereby one must gather enough Radiance (gained only by killing select bosses in select instances) to be able to fight yet other select bosses in select instances.  It’s no longer possible to pursue one’s own path in game and still experience all the content; raiding is now absolutely required in order to experience the top end instances.

What’s the trouble there, really?  I mean, if you want to go to the most difficult raids, you have to do the easier raids first, right?  Well, the problem is twofold.  On a basic level, I enjoyed the freedom of being able to craft endgame gear, or PvP for it, or seek random world drops, or quest, or kill bosses.  I enjoyed all of those methods and sought them all out whenever the fancy struck me.  Some days I wanted to raid, so I raided.  Some days I wanted to craft, so I crafted.  Some days I wanted to PvP, so I PvPed.  All of these activities had the potential to reward me with items of roughly equivalent value, and so each activity was equal in its own way.  This is by no means true any longer.  Now if I want to fight the Watcher in the Water, I have to have defeated a certain number of bosses in other instances, and moreso must have done so often enough to have obtained the items they drop.

This leads me to my second concern with content gating: I like playing multiple characters.  I generally have a “main char” but I always have several alts, and in a game as fine as LotRO, I loved bringing all my alts to high levels.  I’d intended, when I started playing again, to get all my characters to lvl 60, including my two new ones.  I cannot however stomach the thought of grinding all the same instances over and over again with one alt after another in order to obtain for each the gear I need to move onto the next tier of instances.  I want to be able to work in my own way and on my own time, equip my characters with gear that’s good enough, bring them to appropriate levels, and experience all the challenges in the game.  I don’t however want to be pigeonholed into only having one possible path… and then repeating this exact path for every character.  The thought fills me with Dread… or is that Gloom?  Well, it’s unpleasant anyhow.

This is exacerbated by the shift in my social circles in game.  I belong to a kinship that was quite casual but is growing considerably less so.  I also play (well, played until recently) with a group of people who aren’t in my kin, but belonged to a variety of different kinships.  They were all good people, fun to play with and very skilled.  Some I’d known from before I returned, and some I met more recently, but all are good players and all want to get good endgame equipment.  This circle of friends formed a new kinship with a hardcore focus, and at the same time my own kinship turned hardcore.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a hardcore player.  I however am getting back into dating after my divorce, and I don’t want to commit a ton of my time in advance to being available for raids.  There’s nothing wrong with those who do want to do so, but that’s not really what I want at this point in my life.  I want to be able to play casually, without commitment, to log on and off when I want to, to not show up for several days at a time or to play for hours on end, as my schedule permits and my whims dictate.  Both my kinship and my circle of friends though have instituted a DKP system, which is frankly anathema to the casual gamer.

The problem is essentially this: a DKP system rewards those who play hardcore, those who schedule raids in advance and especially those who make themselves available on preset days regularly (e.g. Monday and Friday evenings my kin has preset raids to kill the giant Turtle).  DKP systems are not really compatible with the way I want to play these days.  I still want to raid, but given the LotRO raids are largely 6-man affairs, I just want to join up with friends who are raiding and hit dungeons for an hour or two, when it’s convenient for me.  That’s not a difficult proposition since the group size is so small and the instances so short; there’s absolutely no reason casual raiding can’t work in LotRO, and I speak from considerable experience here.  This was never a problem with SoA and with my old kinship, wherein I used to raid a LOT but largely on the spur of the moment… but now it’s very much a problem.  My friends are all shifting to a more hardcore approach, and are by extension less casual-friendly, and it’s all directly caused by gear gating.  I correspondingly don’t honestly think this is the game for me anymore, which is saddening.

Yes, I could leave my kinship and join another more casual one.  It’s disheartening though to think of all the friends I enjoy playing with, but not to join them anymore on their raids.  Joining them on their raids is still an option of course, but I’d do so knowing I wouldn’t be eligible for rewards for X amount of time until I had enough DKP stored up, which is frustrating.  It’s fair, surely, but then so is having everyone roll for items.  It’s just a matter of taste and preference, and the direction my friends have taken isn’t one I wish to take.  Given the context of my concerns with the two basic game concepts that trouble me so, I haven’t found myself wanting to play.

9 comments so far

  1. Ysharros on

    Oh dear. 😦 Not much to suggest — when it’s time to move on it’s time to move on, and if it isn’t you’ll know it soon enough — but it’s still sad to hear.

  2. Green Armadillo on

    I personally am very much looking at this game as over from the moment I hit 60 until the Mirkwood launch. Maybe I’ll try an alt if I’m really bored, but the two big endgame issues really kill any limited desire I might otherwise have had to work on these areas.

  3. Brian 'Psychochild' Green on

    I started playing after the Mines of Moria expansion, so I never experienced all the diversity of playstyles you talk about. I have noticed that my crafting that was super-useful up until level 50 became pretty lame past that. All the crafting alts I have are now only really good for churning out reforged 2nd age legendary items for people who want to try to find a weapon that’s just a bit better.

    From that perspective, I don’t think “casual” raiding in LotRO is impossible. I’m in a kinship with no DKP system and we do the turtle a few times per week without a set schedule. I don’t log on all the time to get gear. Admittedly, there are a few people who are obsessive about getting better gear, but for the most part they’re happy to help others, too. I play my raiding main maybe 2-4 times per week and have 4 pieces of radiance gear.

    I think it’s mostly about finding the group that fits. Sounds like your existing circle of friends are leaving you behind. That can really suck, especially if you see yourself being forced into a single path to victory after enjoying so much freedom. Perhaps a change of game is in order so you can recapture what was fun about LotRO before.

    At any rate, thanks for this post. It’s given me fuel for thought about how games change over time.

  4. unwize on

    It’s very sad that the radiance system has put these sorts of pressures on casual Kinships and players, but before you decide to throw in the towel completely, let me try to convince you to hang on and give SoM a go:

    1) The legendary item system revamp is likely to make it much easier to find a weapon with ‘must have’ legacies, which should hopefully mean a lot less grinding. Ok, it’s still a mockery of the book’s concept of legendary weapons, but it sounds like a big improvement to me.

    2) They are changing radiance gear acquisition to a more flexible barter system, hopefully giving more choice and fewer headaches. The devil will be in the details, but again, it will hopefully be an improvement on what we have right now.

    3) The real meat of the expansion sounds like it may actually be skirmishes, which will provide ample opportunities for ad-hoc casual grouping. These more anything may be LotRO’s salvation for casual players, and it would be a shame if you didn’t give them a chance.

    Finally, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break. Breaks are healthy! If you find yourself missing Middle-Earth, it’s easy enough to come back. If you don’t find yourself missing it, well, good for you 🙂

  5. foolsage on

    Thanks, both of you. 🙂

    Unwize, you’re right, the improvements to the Legendary system do sound good, and should improve that experience. At its core though it’s still something that doesn’t make any sense in the context of the world, so it violates immersion. If these items are really legendary, why don’t I give them to other people instead of destroying them to improve yet other weapons? The frequency of legendary drops and the way we treat them is at its core troubling. I can deal with this and it’s not enough in itself to demotivate me, but it is on my mind.

    I’m very interested in seeing the more flexible Radiance system, but it’s an incremental change and not a revolutionary one. That is to say, we still won’t be able to get Radiance from crafting, questing, random world drops, or PvP – only from raid bosses. I quite like raiding but don’t like having no other paths to endgame. Turbine isn’t addressing my most central concern, as far as I know.

    The skirmishes do sound excellent. There are a handful of other nifty ideas coming along, e.g. the mounts-as-skills system, that I’d love to play with.

    When I come down to it though, the people I most enjoy playing with have taken the logical step based on the dev’s design choices, and have become more hardcore. I don’t like DKP systems and don’t want to schedule myself for raids in advance, at this point in my life. I’m going out several nights a week on dates and like being free to do so without worry that I’ll lose standing in the kinship. So that’s a hurdle I don’t see an elegant way over right now.

    I haven’t left yet but my thoughts are tending in that direction now. I do have a Mirkwood beta invite, which I’m also conflicted about accepting. Right now I’m unsure what I’ll do as far as LotRO goes.

    I’ve really been enjoying the very active combat in Champions Online, but the game is still quite young and there isn’t much content yet. I’ve done almost everything there is to do in game already and am growing a bit restless. We’ll see where the future takes my online gaming experience.

  6. foolsage on

    Whoopsie, I had two comments unapproved, which makes my earlier comment look rather strange in context.

    Lyriana, I will say that I think playing alts in LotRO is extremely rewarding. I honestly enjoy every single class, and they all play quite differently from each other. To each their own though.

    Psychochild, casual raiding in LotRO is absolutely possible. Indeed, it’s still among the most casual-friendly games in general, and as Unwize noted above, the upcoming skirmish system should help provide fodder for casual players and hardcore alike. The Radiance gating system though did fundamentally change how people approach the endgame, by making it much more like WoW’s tiered system than what LotRO used to offer. A natural consequence is that a lot of people who used to raid casually now take a more hardcore approach.

    One of the things I liked most about the SoA approach was that I didn’t feel any need to worry about gear; if I just played and did the things I enjoyed, my characters all ended up with decent gear. I didn’t ever feel that I had to pursue getting them the “best” of anything, because I could still explore and enjoy all the content in my own time and at my own pace. Now, in order to even SEE the Watcher in the Water, I need a full Radiance set. Well, that’s not strictly true… if a group of friends were willing to sacrifice their lives to let me go in and have a look, it would be possible to do so… but I’d cower immediately due to the high Dread, and so the raid would very very probably wipe. I wouldn’t ask that of my friends, and so without acquiring Radiance gear for my chars, I can’t even experience the endgame instances.

    This wouldn’t be nearly so much of an issue were I not an altaholic. It’s not so terrible to grind the instances a bunch of times to get a full Radiance set. It’s a lot more daunting though to think of doing so 8 more times, so all 9 of my chars have a full Radiance set. It’s clear that future endgame content will use the same Radiance gating system, so if I want to see e.g. Dol Guldur, I’ll need the Radiance pieces from the Watcher, before which I’ll need the Radiance pieces from the earlier instances. The cycle is in place now and the outcome is clear… and it’s disheartening.

  7. Longasc on

    The next two paragraphs can be skipped if you want it short and concise. 😉

    I totally understand what you say. I never experienced LOTRO from the start, my system was not good enough at this point and most of my friends did not want to play. I also thought that releasing a MMO to the LOTRO movies who were popular at this time to be pretty predictable and a recipe for disaster. The final thought was that I experienced Asheron’s Call 2 and really lost faith in Turbine. Plus my early trial put me off, the unresponsive controls and an already slow system really made LOTRO an awkward experience.
    But some time this year I did the LOTRO trial while waiting for Aion. I was still not convinced to play LOTRO after the trial. But it still was the only fantasy scenario MMO that was not totally cheesy, clownish and not another totally failed WoW clone. It had something, so I finally bought it for little money.

    I never experienced Angmar and the late game raids the way you did. I have not yet raided Helegrod, was only three times in Urugarth, totally overpowered as I was level 58-60 against the level 50 mobs.

    But at least I can go there without too annoying content gating. Now I am in Moria and have to gather radiance gear parts just to be able to participate in the encounter at all. FAIL…! This system is pure fail!

    The “legendary weapon scrapping” is also definitely wrong. It just feels wrong, and I really felt more connected to my non-legendary weapons that I upgraded now and then. Scrapping thousands of “legendary” items is somehow… odd, to say the least! For my Champion all that counts is a gold legacy for Fervor, and -% energy cost legacies for my rune slot. Then I hope for a good random relic in the relic slot machine… uuuh. This system could and should have been so much more!
    CRAFTING was really useful and crafted gear was really cool. It was sacrificed on the altar of Raid progression, you are right, crafting reforged 2nd age weapons and Galadhrim armor seems to be all that is left in the Moria/post-Moria period.
    RADIANCE is just an artifical and VERY annoying content limiter, I bet that at one point you get crafted armors that have enough radiance that you can have much more radiance than nowadays even possible, without having to do any of the Moria instances. This system is just a content extender of the worst kind that will cause even more problem the more expansions and levels they add, the more the game grows. Either it becomes meaningless (free permanent +100 radiance item for starters… I see it coming in the long run) or it remains annoying.

    And you are right, it puts me on rails. IF I want to see the large Dol Guldur raid, I need to get radiance gear. Start at the bottom in instances in Moria, then go to the Watcher and so on. Oh my…

    I actually would prefer to play as in the pre-Moria areas. I like this zone and quests, so let’s stay here for a while. Do some rep grind, which does feel bad at all if not too much is associated with it, if it is not near-mandatory. The travel system also needs an overhaul, it cannot be that it is so annoying and cumbersome to get to the 21st hall outside of Moria if you have not bound there and your cooldown ready or if you are not a hunter or a captain calls you.

    I think this radiance gated content also encourages “industrialized raiding” and enforces a gear carrot greed mentality that simply was not necessary before. Now people really need DKP systems to keep people working for their rewards, which are necessary to progress, which sounds totally wrong to me.

    I am a new player, but I can really understand what you liked about Pre-Moria, and I am quite afraid of this more hardcore progression system, as it sucks a lot of the fun out of the game and totally destroys the “freedom” to raid when and what you want.
    I still hope that it is not too hard to get at least some basic radiance gear, otherwise I will cry havoc.

    • foolsage on

      Rant on, brother, rant on!

      We’re clearly of the same mindset here. The worst part of this, for me, is that overall LotRO is such a fine game, and it’s a setting that I confess I deeply love. I have reread LotR at least once every year for over three decades now. I was excited and happy to get a chance to play in a well-manifested version of that setting, and in most regards the gaming experience in LotRO garners a solid A-rating from me. But the legendary system is frankly ill-conceived, and the gear gating is simply unwelcome. The effects that these two systems have on gameplay is truly saddening to someone who started in early beta and has watched the game’s progression for roughly 3 years now.

  8. […] playing for the last month and a half though, and I don’t see that changing.  Fundamentally, I remain unhappy with the concept of gear gating (which remains part of the new plan from all I can see; no word to the contrary has been issued), […]

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