Monday, January 12, 2009

Litmus test for LoTRO

Lord of the Rings Online very much seems to be a love it or hate it type of MMO. Some players find the game to be incredibly immersive and engaging, while some don't don't seem to "get it" at all, and wonder what the fuss is all about. Some even come to despise LoTRO with a hatred that borders on irrational (they shall remain unlinked here). LoTRO, like most things in life, is not for everyone.

To help you decide which of these categories you might fall into, I have decided to put up a short self quiz for a new player. The quiz is based on things you will experience in your first ten levels. The idea is to help you get a sense for whether you should keep playing. If you have played through at least two racial starting areas you should be able to answer most of these:

1. When you encountered the story instances in the first six levels of play, did you think:

A. Wow, neat, it's like I'm playing though a scene from a movie!
B. Holy crap, what is with all these stupid instances taking me out of the world. This is boning my immersion.

2. When you noticed that the armor that you were getting from newbies quests tended to make you look like you were dressed by a blind rodeo clown, did you think:

A. I have got to figure out how to get some better looking gear. I wonder if there is a dye or appearance slot system?
B. Holy crap, this armor sucks ass. This game is supposed to be pretty, what the hell?

3. When you did the quests to deliver mail in the Shire did you think:

A. Wow, neat. A challenging quest chain that doesn't involve any killing at all. Also fits the lore of the shire nicely.
B. God damn you nosey f-ing hobbits. Christ, why can't they just send me to kill something?

4. When you were sent to run errands for a female hobbit in Staddle to help another hobbit (that had a crush on her) catch her attention, did you think:

A. sweet. Sure I'll help you little hobbit. Consider me your personal romance specialist!
B. Godamn, what the hell is up with all these fetch quests? Now I'm weeding!?! What is this, Lord of the Godamn Errands?

5. When you were asked to run back and forth delivering messages to the two elven brothers in Celondim and Duliond, did you think:

A. Wow, this is a neat little story. Evokes the wistful majesty of Tolkiens elves perfectly.
B. What the hell is up with all this running? Don't they use the mailboxes?

6. When you stepped into the old forest, got lost, and then got your ass handed to you by an elite tree or spiders [
Edit: pre-old forest map revemp, newer players might not know what I'm talking about], did you think:
A. Wow, this place is scary. Just like it should be from the books. Neat!
B. What the fucking hell!?! I can't find shit in here. Screw this area, I'm going to Bree.

7. When you discovered that many quests could only be completed in groups, did you think:

A. Ahh, cool. Plenty of solo quests but a lot of group only content too. Nice split.
B. Why the hell can't I get any PUGs? I've been spamming for five minutes, I should have one by now. And what the hell is up with locking off content from solo players anyway?

8. When you discovered that PvP was limited to one zone, did you think:

A. Well that makes sense with the lore, can't have trolls rampaging though the Shire if it didn't happen in the books. The PvMP looks like a fun side game anyway. Maybe I'll mess around with it when I get some more levels under my belt.
B. What the hell? I though the books were all about a war between light and darkness? Where is the War of the Ring? I wanted a game like Helm's Deep in the movies. Why won't it let me roll an orc so that I can go to the Shire and eat Hobbit babies? This game is total weaksauce compared to EVE/ Shadowbane/ Pre-Trammel UO!


If you answered B to more than four questions: Continue to play LoTRO at your own risk. Don't stick it out for 20 more levels hoping it will "get good." It won't. You will be lucky if you aren't totally burned out on it by the mid 30s. You will bitterly regret the time you wasted playing it. You may go on to make a series of blog posts bashing the game, or even spend a solid f-ing year on a LoTRO message board antagonizing fans of the game. At the very least, you will be amazed at the number of brainwashed sheep that find enjoyment in such utter tedium.

If you answered A to more than four questions: LoTRO might be the game for you long term. As good as it is now, the game will only get better as you get into Goblin Town, Foreschel, the final Book quests, and the Mines of Moria. Welcome home!

WAR: give me decent PvE or give me a different MMO

As fun as the PvP in Warhammer Online is, I found that the sub-par PvE eventually killed the game for me. After having had some time to reflect, here are the three biggest issues I had and what I believe could be done to address them.

No sense of "place" (immersion)

The PvE zones provide very little sense of "place." They seem designed mainly with utility in mind rather than to immerse you in a virtual world. The fact that you can quest by running from red blob to red blob on your map, reading nary a bit of quest text, further reinforces this impression. The zones are laid out as a means to an end, and that end is guiding you through quest grinds so that you can level and get back to the PvP. Zones are simply a means of guiding your progression in nearly any MMO. However, this is masked much more poorly in WAR than in an average MMO.

How to fix it:
Unfortunately, the zones are in place and it's really too late to fix this. A few things could help. One simple change would be to further encourage exploration. There are a lot of little secrets in each zone that exist for no other reason than unlock entries in your Book of Knowledge. Perhaps this system could be incentivised? Giving users the option to turn off the "quest blobs" might also help some players with immersion. Of course, the quests would have to be clear enough that you could find objectives based on the text for this to work (see below).

Mob density and respawn rates are too high

It is a serious pain in the butt to get anywhere in the PvE areas. When you are sent into an enemy area for a quest objective, you will be killing something nearly every step of the way. And when you get there, everything will have respawned behind you. If your swift travel isn't up or is set at a useless place, prepare to kill everything again. It makes the entire experience of questing incredibly tedious. This more than anything killed the PvE for me.

How to fix it:
Lower respawn rates in areas outside of public quest zones. Lower the mob density to the point that you can expect to fight 2 or 3 adds getting to an objective (like most MMOs) rather than dozens.

Quest text is sub-par

I am a huge fan of lore in MMOs. I am one of those anal types that will hold up a party so I can read every bit of quest text in a chained group quest. Not so in Warhammer online. Save for the Greenskin quests most of the quests in WAR read like "bla, bla, bla...go kill some lizards" (or whatever). This is odd because the writing in the BoK is excellent. About the only part of the PvE I consistently enjoyed was unlocking new entries. The prose in many of the Greenskin quests is also excellent. There are obviously some good writers at Mythic.

Unfortunately, most of the quest text reads like a first or second draft. The prose is tends to be inefficient, and conveys little sense of the personality of the quest giver. The quest instructions are also generally vague. Without the red blobs on my map I doubt I could have found most quest objectives.

How to fix it
: Pay whoever wrote the entries in the BoK to go through each zone streamlining and clarifying the quest text. Decide on what mood to convey in each zone, and make certain that every quest contributes to that goal. Either by reinforcing the mood, or by providing notable (and infrequent) exceptions to it. Rule of Thumb: any quest text much over two short paragraphs better be conveying one hell of a story, or you will lose your reader.

You may have noticed I said nothing about the PQ system. Mythic does seem to be aware of the current issues with them, and so I don't think much more needs to be said on the subject. And when you have enough players to get through a PQ, they are arguably brilliant.