Thursday, June 18, 2009

The endgame of LoTRO considered as a stable limit-cycle (or potentially as an open relationship)

This post by Green Armadillo and this one by Unwize got me thinking about the end game grind in LoTRO, and MMOs in general. LoTRO certainly has some pretty baldfaced grinds, the entire LI system probably being the worst culprit currently. However virtually all non-PvP focused MMOs become grindy once you hit the cap. It's the nature of content that's designed to be repeatable.

To me the question is "do I have a wide enough variety of grinds to pick from that I can be entertained." Or put differently, is the end game structured so that I can make real progress by dabbling in a lot of different activities, and perhaps getting serious about one or two things I happen to really enjoy.

In the majority of PvE focused MMOs that has not been true for me. That certainly was not true of WoW. Both times I hit the cap there (once at 60, once at 70) the game fell flat on it's face for me and I ended up quitting. Repeating a raid dozens of times so that I can gear up and move on the the next one just isn't my idea of a good time. I didn't like that in EQ, I left when they tried to force that on us in DAoC, and I hated it in WoW (though 11 million players would presumably beg to differ).

LoTRO in the SoA era had a very good endgame to my tastes. There were so many useful activities to dip my toes into that I doubt I saw more than half of the endgame instances. These days not so much. The endgame is currently too contracted compared to what we had before, at least to my tastes. I suspect that the more grindy mechanics that have been added recently (e.g, the LI system and the Lothlorian gift box system) were intended to disguise this fact and distract us while Turbine broadens out the endgame to where it was before. The next major update will go a long way towards this by adding our first true raid and boosting some of the crafting professions. However, this makes me wonder if we are seeing a cycle of expansions and contractions that is going to repeat itself in the game.

In launch LoTRO there wasn't much of an end game. I think Helgorod or maxing your traits/ crafting were about all there was to do. PvMP didn't even reward gear sets back then as I recall. Superhardcore players that hit the cap pre-Rift left in droves. When I hit the cap, on the other hand (right before goblin town launched) there was a ton of stuff to do. Turbine continued to add to that at such a pace that I never even got around to a lot of the end game content before Moria launched. I was thoroughly entertained.

I think we are now seeing a similar process. With the luanch of MoM Turbine contracted their end game considerably. It's certainly nowhere near as bad as it was near launch. However, there isn't really enough available that I can consistently find something fun to to on my main when I log. I've already mostly burned out on the solo activities that I enjoy. I mainly log on to help other players out and work on alts these days. Turbine has been slowly but surely expanding the endgame, and I fully expect it to be as engaging as it once was by the end of the summer. However a few months after that the endgame will contract again when the level cap is raised.

If this turns out to be a standard cycle in LoTRO, I won't be weeping about it. I have a lifetime sub so I don't mind backing off for a while to wait for new content to be patched in. It actually suits my gaming style well. I have a stable KS that I really enjoy in LoTRO, and I can dabble in other MMOs without being punished for it by paying 15 dollars for a game I'm not logging into much. In a way it's great to have an MMO that doesn't mind if you to cheat on it.

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