Dead Ringers

My LOTRO kinship is breaking up.

After four years in Guardians of Gondor, it looks like we’ll be merging with another kinship over the next couple of weeks. Our raiding has been lackluster as of late, and we can’t even field a full 12 people for endgame content. I’m taking a week’s break from the game, both to re-evaluate where I want to go with my kinship allegiance and even whether I’m going to continue with the game on a long-term basis at all.

So today’s announcement of Turbine’s 2012 plans and the Riders of Rohan expansion hasn’t elicited the same kind of wondrous joy that previous announcements have.

In addition to the standard press release, I pored over every word of Massively’s interview, which left me feeling a little… mixed? Ambivalent? I’m not sure if that’s the right word, but I’m definitely not “excited.”

Level up! First, there’s the level cap increase, from 75 to 85. I used to like leveling in LOTRO, really I did. Maybe that’s because the 1-50 route when the game began seemed to have a lot of variety, both in the landscapes and the types of quest. LOTRO‘s always been a theme park, true, but there were enough diversions to keep the process interesting. Even in Moria, the level 51-60 zone, it seemed interesting enough, if only because finding your way around Moria was half the challenge.

Ding! (again)

Leveling from 61-65 in Mirkwood was more dull, perhaps because of the general gloominess of the setting. But being only five levels, it went by quickly. In fact, Turbine’s stated goal at the time was that there were only five levels because they wanted to “concentrate on endgame.” Then came Rise of Isengard, which was about as by-the-numbers a leveling process as there gets. By about level 72, I was bored and wanting to be at max level so I could play endgame. I got my main to 75 and struggled to get my primary alt there. Maybe it’s the general “blah” factor of the terrain that was so yawn-worthy; if that’s so, then visiting an iconic place like Rohan might improve things. Still, it seems too soon for such a large increase in the level cap.

Two’s company. I didn’t expect the “personalized pet” to be such a growing theme in MMOs, but apparently it is. You’ll be able to take your skirmish soldier out with you, in some limited areas, with Riders of Rohan. Between the parties you manage in Star Trek Online and Gods & Heroes — both of which had their genesis with the same developer, so it’s understandable that they’d share this base mechanic — and companion characters in The Old Republic, it seems like this is a growing trend. I’m not sure that players need extra “pets” to run them through leveling content; high-level characters are already skilled enough to do so without the help and low-level characters have the oh-so-convenient and fitfully demanded (*chortle*) stat armour available in the Turbine Store.

If this is implemented, I hope Turbine beefs up the flavor of the skirmish soldiers, akin to at least what the aforementioned games offer. Those three games offer some reason to care about your characters as more than just piles of combat statistics, whether it’s their background and story or via customization options. Right now, there are a few ways to customize your soldier’s appearance, but the skins aren’t really any different than what are available for run-of-the-mill NPCs. Something more in line with STO‘s bridge crew appearance options would be welcome. Especially the bust slider for females! 🙂

Of course, the little voice in the back of my head realized that improved appearance options would be great for the Turbine Store…

My kingdom for a horse. Ah, mounted combat. How I’ve never really been interested in you.

It’s true. While some players have clamored for mounted combat since day one (and especially as we drew closer and closer to Rohan), I’ve been less enthusiastic, and this isn’t related to any recent disillusionment with LOTRO. Mounted combat faces the very serious issue of requiring a totally different skill set than what players are used to on their characters now. If it doesn’t — if your lore-master can toss fire or your guardian can taunt the enemies — then what’s the point?

Just wait until I can take you into combat! You're looking forward to it, aren't you?

As such, “Players will learn special skills for mounted combat and spend their spare time up-armoring their My Little War-Ponies.” So, in addition to leveling up your characters and your legendary items, you’ll also need to level up your horse, and don’t forget keeping your skirmish soldier up-to-date. Hrm.

Here’s how I see this could work: Use mounted combat as an analog for space combat. While it sounds like LOTRO‘s mounted combat will be more open than SWTOR‘s on-rails space combat, it still sounds like a faster-moving, mow-down-the-enemies-in-rapid-succession mode of play, much like a space shooter. My ship only has a few “slots” in which to equip gear, so maybe a fairly simplistic system like this could work, at least in the beginning, without seeming too onerous.

That said, do we really need a new type of combat, which will be very limited in scope and complexity, instead of meeting other development goals? Mounted combat, IMHO, has been the white whale of LOTRO almost since its inception, and while the finished product might very well turn out OK, it just seems better in theory than it’ll be in practice.

The next few months, and my new kinship, will determine whether or not I stick with LOTRO for the long haul. The announcement of this expansion, coming in the fall, probably won’t impact that, so I don’t figure to pay too close attention to its development. Chances are, we won’t get any more solid info or images until E3 anyway, keeping in line with how things went with ROI last year. By then, we’ll see if I’m still playing.

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2 Responses to Dead Ringers

  1. dndhatcher says:

    For a minute I thought you were plagiarizing my thoughts, but I got bored and stopped at level 69.
    (I’m not hitting on you. I really have stalled my main and main alt at levels 69 and 68).

    Im a lifer and would really like to see how they render Isengard and Rohan, but every update introduces new grinds or enchanced grinds and I am afraid I’ll never feel the enthusaism needed to survive the levelling to do so. Such a beautiful game world with rich lore, mediocre gameplay, clunky infrastructure and insufferable endgame grind.

    How could you talk about companions and not mention that Guild Wars perfected the companion (in some ways GW heroes are better than people) and turned itself into a massive single player online RPG?

  2. jasonwinter says:

    I only played Guild Wars for about two months and never bought the expansions, so I never got to mess around extensively with heroes. I actually did pick up the full box set and logged in for a little while a few months ago, and what I did see of the heroes seemed quite cool.

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