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DDO: what’s in store for Lotro

After my last post, I realized that the most fitting game to try was actually DDO. I had played DDO during its beta and then dismissed it for being too group focused for my taste. I got some interest in it again after it went F2P. However, since that was only for the US and not for Europe, I forgot about it again.

So I made that post about searching for a good game to try out/get back to and then I saw this video by accident. Apparently, the game was playing from Europe. I had mistakenly assumed that it would perform less or even be IP blocked. That teaches me to assume things.

So here are my first impressions:

  • It cannot replace Pen&Paper DnD. Computer games cannot compete with my RL friends.
  • It is pretty true to P&P though, while keeping the action of a computer game
  • You actually have to aim to hit things with both melee, ranged and spells, which makes combat more involved than for most MMO’s.
  • Just like in the P&P, you can really screw up your character build

While I could continue that list, I would like to focus on items that are relevant to Lotro going F2P.

  • I did not feel weak for being on a free account
  • Chat spam was not worse than any MMO starting zone. I actually did not see a single gold seller
  • The Turbine store is clearly present, but it is not forcing itself upon the player. Radio commercials are more intrusive.
  • Only social hubs in DDO are not instanced. This makes it easier to lock areas off as paid content. This is going to be more difficult for Lotro’s open world.

Conclusions? It is too early. However, DDO has impressed me enough to keep playing for a while. At the very least I shall have a fun game to play until Starcraft 2 beta goes live again.

Waiting for it… f2p

June 21, 2010 1 comment

After the success of the revamp of DDO from a subscription game to a free-to-play game, I should probably have been less surprised when a similar change was announced for Lord of the Rings Online. Financially, I have nothing to complain about, I bought a lifetime subscription when the game went live and I have spent more than enough hours in-game to make that one of my best financial decisions about entertainment. I do have concerns though, about how the lower threshold to start the game may ruin the friendly community, about how long we will have to wait for new content if the team is busy working on the f2p model, about the gliding scale of micro transactions from cosmetic to slightly useful to simply buying power with real money.

What worries me most is pretty personal. I still like playing MMO’s though I would rather be playing Starcraft II at the moment, but the beta is down. However, getting into a new one is a pretty large time investment. LOTRO is fun, but it will never be my main game for long. I am thinking about getting back to Age of Conan, Warhammer, Champions Online, Global Agenda or trying something new, but there does not seem to be anything out yet that draws me in enough to make the initial investment of time and money. Or rather: why would I be paying now when the winning business model for failing (DDO) and non-failing (LOTRO) games seems to be FTP? The games I mentioned could clearly use a boost in subscriptions.  Perhaps I like a game enough (again) to continue, but perhaps that game needs a bit more time to grow on me before I enjoy it. This was certainly the case with LOTRO. I really like the setting, but it was basically WoW with a Tolkien skin when I started playing. Only later, thanks to my “playing for free”, did I start to appreciate the game for what it was.

And that leaves me wondering where the MMO pricing model will go. I am really curious what The Old Republic will do and how that will affect the market. If DDO is potentially changing the whole landscape, imagine what that game will do if it is the success it claims it shall be. I am ashamed to admit that I am hyped enough about that game to buy it anyway.

LOTRO Skirmishes for Champions, please!

January 3, 2010 1 comment

Fully scalable

Skirmishes are a new kind of instance that were added to Lord of the Rings Online as part of the Siege of Mirkwood Expansion. These are scalable event-driven instances that can be played solo or in a group. A short introduction quest has to be done at level 30 and from there on the instances can be accessed from anywhere in the world through a special panel. Skirmishes are like PvE battlegrounds from WoW and Warhammer Online in which locations (marked with banners) have to be conquered, freed or defended e.g. Siege of Gondamon is a survival style attack on the fortress city of Gondamon in which the player has to assist the defenders at the gates, while another Skirmish deals with freeing the hobbit town of Tuckborough from invading bandits and goblins. At level 65 more than ten Skirmishes are available to the player. Besides fun, these are also a great source of experience. My previously mentioned slow leveling in LOTRO has received a boost that has greatly increased my interest in playing the game for longer stretches at a time.

Not every class is able to solo well so every player has access to a special kind of pet called Soldier that is only available during Skirmishes. This Soldier can be customized to fit a role (tank, healer, melee dps, ranged dps, crowd control) and given special abilities as well as a custom look. All these options can be changed like traits for a modest fee. Characters in CO can be more all-round because of the open skill system, but something like a sidekick or NPC partner would fit the super hero setting.

Not all options are available from the start. Some are gated by level and others have to be bought with specials tokens called Skirmish marks that are gained by playing (more are gained by performing better). CO could use a mechanic with gradual rewards instead of grinding hundreds of mobs for only a cosmetic effect. People hate grinding but they do it all the time in MMO’s because the grinding is wrapped into something interesting and because there is a reward at the end. LOTRO Skirmishes have both: good content while gaining tokens for future rewards.

Fully customizable

Why Skirmishes would fit in Champions Online

There are several reasons why Skirmishes would fit better in CO than more lairs:

Flavor

Super heroes are often reactive. They respond to a crises. Even a proactive team like The Authority waited (most of the time) for trouble to start before they got involved. Because superheroes often react to crises solo or in a small team, the instanced Skirmishes would fit the setting as well. And, frankly, stopping a giant monster on your own feels a lot more heroic than doing it with the other 99 people in the main world zone.

Replayable Group/Solo content

There is too little group content in CO, but, to be honest, there is also to little solo content. Scalable content fills both holes and people are not dependant on others if they really want to run a certain scenario. The Nemesis instances already scale so the technology seems to be in place. By getting a token system in place, the content is replayable.

Reuse of assets

The LOTRO Skirmishes use familiar locations like Weathertop. These places already exist in the normal world, so no/limited new artwork had to be created. If CO does something similar and cuts out, for example, a part of Millenium City, then the development time can be reduced.

They are already in the game, kind of

The crisis zones in Millenium City, The Desert and Canada are pretty close to being Skirmishes, but Stronghold Prison is the closest with its scripted assault through the levels of the prison.