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.