De profundis clamo ad te, Eru

Well, then. It’s been ages since I posted here. I really need to take shorter naps.

* rim shot *

What the hells happened here? Why so silent for so long? In short, I felt that I was repeating myself. I was starting to feel like a grumpy old man yelling at kids to get off my lawn. I do love writing though, and I do love games, and this blog has been silently accusing me. Staring. Judging.

OK, ok, fine! I’m writing! I’m writing! But… I’m going to try changing my approach here and see how that works for me. Rather than pontificate about general game design issues, I’m going to focus more on the games I’m currently playing. There’s likely to be a bit more of a player perspective than before, but I’ll continue to relate things to the general design issues behind them.

Deal?

Cool. Let’s go.

So, let’s see. I’ve been playing LotRO again. Last December, a friend and I switched over from DDO, and I have to say, LotRO is better than ever. The things that most bothered me when I last stopped playing have been removed or drastically changed. To wit:legendary items are much less random, and radiance is gone (ding dong the witch is dead, which old witch? the wicked witch!). Let’s see how these two changes have affected things.

Legendary items (LIs) are… well, they don’t really deserve the name, let’s put it that way. They’re intended to be items that grow with you, that you can customize, and to an extent that’s true. LIs do gain experience, and can be leveled up. They gain legacies, which generally apply modifiers to various skills characters have. E.g. a Champion’s weapon might increase the magnitude of her critical hits, while a Rune-keeper’s satchel might increase his ability to heal. Previously though, the legacies on LIs were completely random. An average player would expect to go through dozens of LIs, leveling them up a bit then discarding them until one was found with a couple of the legacies one wanted. I always felt, under the old system, like I was settling for something I didn’t really want, but that was perhaps less crappy than the alternatives. It didn’t inspire warm fuzzy feelings.

A few things have changed for the better there. Now LI legacies can be customized, which makes all the difference to me. Every time you deconstruct a LI that has been leveled to item level 30 or higher, you get to choose one legacy to extract from that LI. You can then apply that legacy to another LI, provided it’s not too much higher level than the original, and it’s of the same type, and the legacy you’re replacing is compatible. OK, lots of restrictions… but in practice it really frees one up. Now of my four lvl 65 characters, all four have pretty decent LIs with most or all of the legacies they wanted. Previously, this was effectively impossible; the randomness involved would require me to burn through thousands of items to get the right combination. Now I can build it myself. Nice!

Radiance, as you’ll all doubtless recall from my previous… wait, what? It’s been too long? Ah hells. OK, Radiance was, well, a nifty idea that turned out to be a horribly stupid idea. In short, Radiance was a mechanic that allowed players to offset a negative condition imposed by raid bosses. Characters that lacked enough Radiance to pass a specific threshold (which varied by boss) were unable to do anything at all, and simply stood there cowering. So effectively, Radiance was a gating mechanism; without enough Radiance you could not complete most raid content.

Radiance was a tiered system, as well. This meant that you’d need X amount of Radiance to complete the easiest raids. Presumably in those raids you’d gain enough gear to increase your overall amount of Radiance, so you’d have Y amount of Radiance to complete the next group of raids, and so on.

The obvious consequence of this approach was twofold: 1) it effectively created a barrier preventing casual players from ever experiencing most raids, and 2) it set raid and instance gear apart from all other gear in game. That latter point is important because it relates to a future change I’ll talk about in a bit: Finesse. But to return to Radiance, we saw a few things as a result of the addition of Radiance. First, crafted armour was considerably devalued, since endgame players needed Radiance, and no crafted gear provided it. Second, a tiered gear-gated system appeals to a different demographic than an open, untiered system does. I posted previously about how I saw Radiance affecting the playstyles of the populace. Now that it’s gone I feel vindicated in my former assessment; things seem to have returned to the way they were before Radiance, which is a Great Good Thing.

In LotRO you can get gear from a number of different sources, and the gear is generally roughly comparable by and large. Gear comes from raids and instances, from questing, from crafting, and from PvMP. Since Radiance was removed, it’s now once again quite possible to get crafted or quested gear that’s nearly as good as the very top end raiding stuff, meaning players once again have a wealth of choices when deciding how to gear up. But this could all change with Finesse.

Finesse is a new mechanic coming this fall with the Rise of Isengard expansion. Essentially, Finesse will offset some of your foes’ ability to mitigate damage by blocking, parrying, and evading. The more Finesse you have, the more easily you’ll be able to damage foes. This is likely to be especially pertinent with raid bosses.

Now, Finesse is perhaps a bit like Radiance in that it’s intended as a passive stat, used to overcome a passive effect. It’s different though in several key ways:

* Finesse will also be available on some quested and crafted gear. Radiance was not.

* Finesse is most important for dps classes, and secondarily for tanks (to help them gain aggro). It’s likely not to matter much to pure healers.

* It should be possible to still defeat bosses even if you have less Finesse than is recommended. With Radiance, if you didn’t meet the threshold, you were literally helpless. You could do nothing at all.

We don’t yet know how much of an impact Finesse will have. We don’t yet know how available it’ll be on crafted and quested armour. I do have some concerns that we’re moving from a free and open equipment system back to a tiered one, where only raiders will be able to get gear to get them into raids. This might well create another progression system like we had with Radiance. I dearly hope not; I think the game is much stronger now that roughly comparable armour is available from a wide assortment of approaches.

We’ll just have to wait and see. This might be similar to Radiance in its overall effect on the game, and it might not. Finesse is a significantly different idea overall though, and less likely to, well, outright suck.

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