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Monday, 30 January 2017

LOTRO changes I'd love to see in 2017


In the beginning of the year, I wrote a post called SWTOR changes I'd love to see in 2017. What about the other MMO I play, though, Lord of the Rings Online? At first I decided against writing such a post, because I am sure (contrary to SWTOR) none of my suggestions would see the light of day and that's a depressing thought. But then I read LOTRO Legendarium: My LOTRO wishlist for 2017 on Massively OP and it was so radically different from my own list that I decided to go with it after all.

The Massively OP article suggests some nice quality of life changes, such as a virtue and currency overhaul, that would make life easier for the everyday player. Some proposals will definitely be addressed this year: Standing Stone Games has already revealed that the developers are discussing where to go with the story after Mordor, claiming it's a new beginning for player characters rather than an ending. We also know that player character models will get attention (hopefully with new hairstyles becoming available). However, no pressing gameplay matters were addressed.

In this article, I will feature things I'd love to see changed in LOTRO that are of vital importance to me as an endgame group player. I'm going to keep it simple and restrict myself to three. You are warned: they are absolutely unsexy and not easy to sell to the playerbase (as in "hey guys, look what we're working on now!") - hence I'm not believing they'll ever happen. However, I cannot overstate the impact these three changes would make.


1) Class balance

Balancing the combat output of classes is a challenge for every MMO, but even more so for LOTRO than others. Increasing levels and stats (especially the introduction of legendary items) have more effect on some classes than others, magnifying class imbalances over time. A recent example (2016) is the difference in sustained DPS between the best (rune-keeper) and the worst (hunter) performing DPS class at the time: ~50% (!). For the most of 2016, one rune-keeper dealt as much damage as two hunters together - guess which class had a hard time getting in tier 2 groups. This was eventually fixed by buffing the hunter's overall raw damage output rather than looking at the underlying problem. As a result, it is now (2017) best to spam a single skill (barrage) as a hunter, with a lore-master feeding you power. There is no use trying to do a rotation, as you will just be performing worse. When leveling up a hunter you will one shot everything because the class is so strong. After the buff, the roles are reversed: hunters now deal more than double the DPS of the second highest damage dealer (rune-keepers), and they do so by just using one skill! This is honestly the worst class balance I've ever seen in an MMO.

LOTRO desperately needs a competent developer that is familiar with all classes to look at the base formulae and adapt them so all profit from the steep power creep (caused by legacies, imbued items, essence gear etc.) equally, or class imbalance will only get worse when new levels and gear are introduced.


2) Reduced barrier of entry

LOTRO is a great game for the casual Tolkien fan who likes to explore Middle-earth. However, it is less so for new players that want to participate in endgame. Through time, so many systems have been introduced that the learning curve is sky high. Even if players are persistent enough to grasp the legendary item system, the imbued item system and the essence system, a huge grind awaits them before they are able to head into the latest tier 2 raid. In this age, the young high school students that could pump so much time into their games have grown up. They have jobs and kids; they don't have that much time to invest anymore, especially not since there are so many other games out there that you can easily hop in and out of to get a comparable experience. I get it, grind is an efficient tool to keep people playing, and it works for some, but it is also a great tool to keep people from playing. I still play together with the friends I made in LOTRO: a team of highly skilled players that conquered many server first titles back in the day. All these people love the game to bits: it's their first MMO and they would love nothing more than to get back raiding, but they simply don't have the time or will to get into it. The recent constant release of new gear levels is another factor that makes gearing up feel like a huge treadmill and puts players off from participating. If the barrier of entry would be lowered by reducing the grind (not skill level, flower picking is something that puts skilled individuals off rather than on), the new raid would get the audience it deserves.


3) Correct instance scaling

The power creep between level 1 and 105 is not linear; it takes jumps at certain levels (those at which new expansions were released), for instance with the introduction of legendary items and imbued LI's. However, instance scaling is done linearly: it does not take power creep in regard at all. Hence we have ended up in a situation where old instances that are leveled up to new level caps are ludicrously easy (e.g. Tomb of Elendil), whereas instances that have been scaled down to lower levels are virtually impossible to beat. For example, Fornost tier 2 on level 30 is harder than a tier 2 raid on level of release. The damage dealt by mobs is way out of line with what characters of low levels (restricted by both stats of gear and defensive skills & trait points) are capable of dealing with. The tier 2 scaling system that is in the game now is based on stats of essence geared characters, while the 95 levels of characters not having access to min maxing stats with essences is completely disregarded. In effect, I avoid playing scaled instances altogether, even those that I used to love, because the experience does not even come close to the original.

If you're not extremely well versed in LOTRO's combat and scaling system, it's hard to predict what experience you're signing up for when entering a scaled instance; in most cases, it will be a disappointing one. This is a great shame, because LOTRO has many high quality instances that I wouldn't want anyone to miss out on. Rescaling these instances so they properly take into account the available stats, damage/healing output and abilities of characters at various levels would make them shine again.

Conclusion

LOTRO is a beautiful game with amazing group content, even ten years after release. However, core elements have been neglected that prevent it from reaching its full potential for group play. You can add as many cool new features as you like, but if the base mechanics of a game are inherently broken, this will ruin the rest of the game. I believe LOTRO deserves better and can, also gameplay wise, again be the star quality game it once was. So, without getting my hopes up, this was it: my three deepest wishes to make LOTRO my most beloved MMO ever again.


Many thanks go to Conrad for his extensive testing of instance scaling and insights into class balance and power creep.

17 comments :

  1. My wife and I are LOTRO players that have played less and less as the gameplay has got less inviting. We love being in Middle Earth but we are casual players that have found it harder to drop in & out whenever we get the urge to play. We found that over time, we were playing SWTOR more and LOTRO less. Does that make sense?

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    1. I'm sure it makes sense, but why exactly that is you'll have to tell me! I find LOTRO easy enough to get into if I just want to level, personally, but SWTOR obviously is the more modern of the two with the more cinematic and streamlined experience. Perhaps that has something to do with it? For me, it really varies. At times (like now) I'm mainly playing SWTOR, but then there are always periods at which LOTRO manages to pull me back in (like last year, with SWTOR's DvL content draught).

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    2. I think it was due to the Legendary change in LOTRO, which got disconcerting every time we wanted to equip something better. I got into the SWTOR DvL event and created two new characters, one of whom ended up as my main, thanks to Guildies. [I wanted to get the Chiss Jedi companion and did - she's great and not your regular Jedi.]

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    3. Legendary items used to make sense when it was an endgame kinda thing (with level 60 the level cap) - now it's mostly an immersion breaking distraction when leveling up. I'm lucky that I was there from the start so I don't need to think much about what legacies I need and when to change to a better one, but I feel sorry for the newbies. They can't just remove legendary items (even if just from the lower levels), though, because you would have a hard time killing stuff. Everything is balanced around that LI power creep. I wish you could just imbue at level 45 and keep that weapon for the rest of your LOTRO career. But enough about LIs.

      I'm happy you managed to get Master Ranos! I love her as well and have been saving up Republic Memorabilia gifts to get her up to a reasonable influence level.

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  2. Nice post! If I'm lucky, I can only play a couple of hours once or twice a week (I'm too tired in the evening) and I still have to understand how legendary items work honestly, I didn't even manage to start crafting. Sometimes I find myself spending so much times on forums and blogs to learn how to play, so yeah I would appreciate an easier learning curve. And, yes, I switched to a Warden after dying multiple times in my solo adventures with my Hunter!

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    1. Thanks! Even though LOTRO has been made easier and more accessible in terms of difficulty, I can see how all the different systems would seem overwhelming to a new player, or a player that doesn't have much time to spend to figure it all out. I think your approach is the right one, though: just go with what you do get and work on those side things when it's the right time. That said, if you do need help, send me a message (Twitter, Discord) and I'll do the best I can. That usually costs less energy that trying to figure things out for yourself with a guide.

      I think that, in terms of leveling, the legendary item system is most overdue for an update. It'd be nice if you just could imbue your legendary weapons right away and level them up as you progress from level 45 to 105. Right now, you want to exchange them to higher level legendary items every 10 levels or so in order to keep dealing enough damage, which is tedious and typically one of those know-how things only long time players with knowledge of the power creep and previous expansions will know about. It's not intuitive and I wouldn't be surprised if it's one of the main reasons casual players struggle getting through those high level zones.

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    2. Thanks so much!!! I found a Legendary Items for Dummies video on YouTube, so I think I'm going to watch it...even if it's 56 mins long, haha!

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    3. Good luck! Let me know if you need some pointers for your class' legacies. There is so much outdated and wrong info about that on the internet (and, sadly, definitely don't trust general chat).

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    4. P.S. And if you happen to play on Laurelin, I have plenty of 2nd age symbols lying around that are looking for a good home (all my characters are past those levels but it feels a waste to vendor them).

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    5. I'll definitely keep that in mind, thank you!!!!

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  3. I think the huge learning curve is the reason why people want new MMOs so badly. These games will always grow to become extremely complex as the years pass and there's no stopping to it, you have to either be a no-lifer or be there from the start to keep up with the pace.

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    1. That's a great point, Armathyx. I think this is exactly why it's important for MMO developers to spend time on streamlining their base game as the years pass, even though that is much harder to sell to the playerbase than to implement more new, exciting things. Otherwise new players will simply be put off by the extreme amount of knowledge required to navigate all the way to level cap. I don't think it's entirely impossible, though. For instance, WoW is still going strong after all these years (although it may have more to do with its position in the MMO market, I don't know). And I must applaud SWTOR for the (very impopular) decision not to bring out a new raid in 2015 but instead spend that time to scale all raids and instances so they can be played at various levels (including level cap) in a way they will always be relevant in the future- and doing a good job at it (due to a predominantly linear power creep in the game).

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    2. Then that's one thing SWTOR did right, that GW2 didn't. Another thing I used to see in older games was the creation of new servers where everyone would have to start from scratch. It didn't really help with the learning curve, but it's more motivating for a new player to see that everyone's starting from 0 as well than to see that other players are already billionaires.

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    3. I'm horribly behind when it comes to endgame in GW2, but it only got 2 (?) expansions, right? By then I wouldn't expect the power creep to be that bad yet, but I'm interested to hear what it's like.

      The 'everyone starts from scratch' server was actually something Justin proposed in the Massively OP article. It's fun, I guess? Doesn't change anything about the massive problems LOTRO encounters basic gameplay wise, though. I'd rather see resources go to fixing those.

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  4. Do you have any tips for a relatively inexperienced lore-master? I mostly play as an ancient master and focus on debuffing the living daylights out of a dazed enemy before sending a pet in to do my dirty work. This has been working to kill enemies many levels higher than me but I can't seem get my debuffs to stick on recent enemies. So any advice you can give would be appreciated. I can't seem to find a good up to date source of advice.

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    1. Sorry! I just realized you have a lore-master guide. I'll Make a post their so you can answer somewhere that makes sense.

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