You might have noticed that I now have an official header for the blog. All thanks go to Nicole Diacono for designing the Mighty Viking Hamster for me. She is a very talented artist and I urge anyone reading to go check out her work.
Spurred by the imminent release of the Riders of Rohan and the buzz that an expansion inevitably creates I am finding myself playing Lord of the Rings Online more than anything else right now. Rift has its own expansion coming, Guild Wars 2 is rearing its head at the end of the month and World of Warcraft will be also be implementing the pre expansion patch (on the same day GW2 gets released nonetheless). However by virtue of being free to play and available right now LotRO is king of the hill at the moment.
More so than any other genre MMOs become more exciting the more time you are willing (and able) to spend in their world. So this month I found myself becoming more involved in my guild, the Keepers of Silmarils, on the Laurelin server. I installed Mumble, got to hear the voices of my kinnies for the first time, they got to hear mine and I even joined a successful Watcher raid. Being relatively low level I got one shot by the aforementioned Watcher just as the encounter started and I got to follow the battle while kneeling in the muck but it was fun and exciting anyways. I also advanced a couple of levels this week, progressed through the epic storyline and am now exploring Mirkwood. As Ronald (or Justin) would have me say ‘I’m lovin’ it!’.
Spurred by my enthusiasm a friend of mine recently bought the LotRO Mithril edition as he intends to start exploring Middle Earth. He is holding it off for the time being since he fell prey to the ‘commit yourself to subscribe to WoW for a year and get DIII for free’ scheme and understandably he cannot afford to play multiple MMOs at one go. Having a real life buddy play with me is an exciting proposition and I am really hoping he gets to fall in love with the game as I did. On this topic, there are a number of changes I would love Turbine to implement for the game – changes which would make life easier for people who just started out and in turn make LotRO easier to love. This is my short list and I am sure others will have more to add to it.
1) Lotro has some complex game mechanics which are quite unlike anything found in other games. These complex systems include legendary items, the different type of damage on weapons and their effect, the relevance of deeding and the way traits work. As a new player it took me quite some time to understand most of these things, and in retrospect I would have done things differently. Some might see this as part of the LotRO charm and true enough, with some scouring, one can find adequate tutorials online explaining how thing work. However a new player might feel daunted and frustrated at the lack of information presented in the game. While I’m at it I need to mention that some tooltips need work. I regularly have to browse the net in order to ascertain what particular skills and items are meant to do.
2) The impact of all of this could be lessened if Turbine ever decided to maximise the potential of mylotro. When I initially found out about mylotro I was amazed at the simplicity of the idea and dumbfounded at how so few MMOs incorporated something similar. An in game browser that leads to an official Lotro wiki? In truth things are not so rosy. The information in mylotro is not very well maintained and most will find much better sources online (lotro-wiki comes to mind). Having the in-game browser locked to mylotro is not the smartest of ideas and Turbine should recognise that players might need information from various sources. The in game browser also badly needs some optimisation. Its extremely slow to browse to the point of making alt tabbing a viable option for me.
3) Complex systems are all well and good but even with all the information and tutorials in the world complexity just for the sake of it does not a good system make. Legendary items need work both with regards to how they work and their current user interface. I do not mind the fact that it is grind heavy. Most endgame content will have you grinding anyways. Having an extra reason to do so is a plus in my books. However there are so many components, and it is so easy to actually gimp your item, that it warrants taking a step back and seeing how it can be better streamlined. Same goes for deeds. Tracking where you need to go and what you need to do for deeding is a headache since the interface is archaic to say the least. This becomes apparent if you need to backtrack to complete specific deeds. And Turbine, while you are at it, just revise some of the deeds. They take an insane amount of time to complete. It may be bearable the first time you are doing it. It becomes a slog when you have to do it again and again with alts.
4) We still spend too much time travelling. I do not mind exploring Middle Earth. It’s an awesome place. However LotRO definitely needs work here since newcomers may find themselves backtracking much more than necessary. Anything that new players find boring may lead them to quit before they get invested in the game. Providing a horse at lower levels was a good move however it is not enough. Simple things such as more stable-masters in strategic areas, faster run speeds for stable horses, and a clearer map system (so players don’t get lost) would go a long way in my opinion. Quests also need to be trimmed since there are some maddening ‘go talk to X now, go say hello to Y, now go back to X’ quests. Would it be so bad if some quest givers just provided you with a map to port you to the selected destination in order to spare you from traversing that 5km stretch of land which you just went through? Also, how about increasing the number of quests being tracked? Having only five quests on the tracker makes it hard to maximize your efficiency when completing quests in an area often forcing the player to backtrack.
5) And for the love of all that is holy Turbine, just streamline some of the abilities. The trend seems to be towards MMOs with limited hotkeys. I am not expecting LotRO to start aping GW2 or TSW. I quite like having all the skills available all the time. However, at some point, more does become less. Does my Guradian need a specific ability to make further damage from behind the enemy? Why not make one of my current abilities do extra damage and cause further effects if used from behind the mob? Do I need an ability to get out of a movement impairing effect? Why not have some other low cooldown ability do that for me? (and cause a self debuff so that I cannot spam this effect despite the abilities’ low cooldown). There are ways and means to reduce the number of hotbars while keeping the exact same functionality.