Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lord of the Rings Online Revisited

My reaction
to the LOTRO beta can be found at this link.

I've actually been playing for the last month and started a subscription. The game is much improved since beta. I also updated my PC, which really shows off the gorgeous amount of detail in the game world. It can be an adjustment coming from something as colorful and stylized as WoW, but the graphics definitely fit well with the lore and themes. The LOD is still ugly, but I've learned to deal with it.

One of the best things about the game is how much the developers interact with the community. Book 10 goes live this month with countless changes based upon player feedback. Book 11 is also due out this year. The goal is to put out as many free updates as possible, not just tweaking classes but adding in new content across all levels.

The main reason I got tired of WoW was the focus on high-level content. I never leveled a character beyond 54. But I leveled at least six characters into their 30s, and even more into their 20s. I like to try everything, but nothing ever got added to the low-level game. It was always Wailing Caverns. Over and over. No soloable instances.

Developers should not put all their focus on the people who burn through all the content, get to the highest level, and raid over and over. Yet ultimately those are the people who bitch the loudest and threaten to quit because now they have nothing to do. Boo hoo.

Try enjoying yourself.


A good example of the way that players can completely subvert design intentions is LOTRO's Monster Play.

Monster Play can be accessed once your character reaches level 10. You can make one of each class of monsters (or "creeps," as they're called).

Creeps were designed to be considerably weaker than player characters (or "freeps"). They're the underdogs. The best way for them to win is zerging.

Turbine never planned on making Monster Play a focus. They didn't consider that some players might grow attached to their creeps, often to the exclusion of their freeps.

They also assumed, since players can be monsters at level 10 but must be at least level 40 to enter the PvP zone as a player, that monsters would greatly outnumber freeps. This was a faulty assumption for several reasons:

-As a creep, you are dropped into a PvP zone without a revealed map and no idea what to do. If nobody is willing to help, you will probably leave and not come back. A lot of first-time creeps are on for five minutes, then leave and never come back.

-You are also much weaker than freeps. If you get into a skirmish you will probably die A LOT. Again, five minutes can turn someone away forever.

-The entrances to Monster Play are in out-of-the-way places in major cities. They also don't show up on maps. Some people have probably gotten into the higher levels without ever knowing where to access Monster Play.

-Some people do not enjoy PvP.

I would hazard about 50% of players try Monster Play and only about 10% stick with it long term. When you factor the "flippers" (people who PvP as both freep and creep) the number of creeps rarely gets above 40-50 at a time, max. Sometimes much, much lower.

What this means is that more often that not creep and freep numbers are balanced, but the deliberate imbalance of creep stats/skills puts them at a very, very noticeable disadvantage.

Turbine could've just left it at that, explaining that PvP was never a priority for the game (which would be true).

Instead the Senior Content Designer engaged the community and collected tons of feeback from PvPers. Book 10 is going to introduce a lot of changes to Monster Play to make the creeps more viable for the long term (including access to your monsters from the login screen).

I'm sure there will still be a lot of work (after all, how do you balance something that is meant to be unbalanced?), but the process of actually dealing with a community is pretty great to see.


James said...

As a player who never made it to 60 you are definitely in the minority of the player base. Look at any census of players and you will see that there is barely anyone from 1-59 and nearly all at 60+.

WoW is a very rich environment, it was good enough for me to level 4 chars to 60. If I heard that the devs wasted a month to put low level content in the game I would shit a brick.

Johnny Pi said...

And nobody ever plays, alts, right?

I wasn't complaining about not getting to 60. Also, I'm pretty sure you're wrong about there being no low-level players.

And I doubt that a month 'wasted' on low-level content would completely ruin Blizzard. They could at least overhaul the boring, tedious Barrens quests.

I like running quests and exploring content. Sorry if you'd get bent out of shape if Blizzard decided to not focus solely on high-level content.

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