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Posts Tagged ‘Lord of the Rings Online’

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.

Both are Blizzard?

The first phase of Starcraft II Beta is over and I found out that I was spending more time on it than I had realised. I suddenly “gained” about one free hour per day. It also made me realise that I am really looking forward to this game. While searching for more SCII information, I found plenty of news about the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Cataclysm, as well. I played WoW for years, enjoyed it, got burned out a few times, returned, had fun again, burned out after a while etcetera, etcetera. I had fully expected to get back with Cataclysm when I quit halfway Wrath of the Lich King. Actually, I expected to return earlier.

However, I can barely muster any enthusiasm. MMO-Champion has a big post called “World of Warcraft Cataclysm Press Tour” on the front page and everything about it seems to be about grinding and simplification. I fully realize that MMO’s have always been about getting players to run around as long in the treadmill as possible, but Blizzard does not seem to bother to try to hide it anymore since Wrath. I am also still playing Lord of the Rings Online and while I am feeling the grind of getting a decent Legendary item, I am also sightseeing in Moria. It may not look like I imagined from reading the books, but it is still worthwhile to see how other people imagined it.

This treadmill also lets you visit Balin's tomb.

Compare that to Starcraft II. While Achievements have infected that game as well, its single player campaign is set to continue the epic story of Starcraft and Brood War without the MMO type grind. Of course, the single player experience will be shorter than an MMO, but the quality of the time investment is much higher. Spending time is necessary to get better in multi player, but this is no mindless grinding. People will have to analyze their play styles and adjust their strategies to really get better.

Blizzard once made two rich worlds, Warcraft and Starcraft (and Diablo, of course), one has degenerated into a thing of pure repetition, the other remains an intellectual challenge. Is it really the nature of MMO’s to require less thoughts of the players or is Blizzard taking the easy way out with WoW?

I think the latter.

The dread penalty

February 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Fear the...Pink...Reaper?!

Death penalties are a pretty controversial topic in the MMO community. One extreme demands that dying in-game should permanently delete the character, the other does not want any penalty at all. I have no set opinion, only that the penalty should make sense with regard to the game environment and that playing badly should never be rewarded.

Current flavors

Let’s take a look at some of the penalties currently implemented in different games:

  • Dying in World of Warcraft results in the character’s spirit being removed from the body and moved to a specified spot on the map where a Spirit Healer awaits. All items carried are also damaged. The player can run as a ghost back to his body and resurrect on the spot. The penalty here is lost time and gold for repairs. The player can also choose to resurrect at the Spirit Healer, but he will then suffer from greatly reduced stats for ten minutes and a great durability loss for all items. There is no penalty at all within battlegrounds and arenas because people have to be able to get up and fight immediately again.
  • Characters in Lord of the Rings Online cannot really die, because it would not fit Tolkien’s world were death is permanent (although some spirits can linger in the world). Instead of health characters have morale and if morale gets depleted, the character retreats to a preset spot on the map with damage to items. They also get a penalty to health and damage output for ten minutes, which grows more severe as the character levels up, the fall of great hero is more severe than that of a grunt. Although it is possible to ‘resurrect’ on the spot every two hours (every hour for lower level characters) this gives the same penalties and is not to be recommended if the character retreated within aggro distance of mobs Like in WoW the penalty is time and money for repairs.
  • Champions Online does not have a dead penalty per se, but rather a reward for staying alive. The longer the character stays alive fighting equal or near level mobs, the more ‘hero’ stars he gets. Every star gives a minor increase in damage up to 6%. Every dead results in the loss of a star and being moved to a preset place on the map. The penalty here is time. There is no penalty at all within the Hero Games because people have to be able to get up and fight immediately again.
  • Warhammer moves a dead character to a preset location and induces a penalty on all stats that grows progressively, so every dead increases the chances of dying again as long as the penalty is on (up to 10 min). The penalty is time. There is no penalty at all within scenarios because people have to be able to get up and fight immediately again.
  • Star Trek Online has no substantial dead penalty, a blown up ship respawns in several seconds. Suicide runs are rewarded because enemies often do not fully reset during the respawn period, making it possible to whittle them down bit by bit, death by death.
  • In Pirates of the Burning Seas ships can be lost a limited number of time before being destroyed permanently. All ship outfitting is lost permanently upon being destroyed. The worth of ships varies so the monetary penalty does as well. Even in PvP a loss means the loss of a ship, which fits the realistic setting well.

I have not played Darkfall or EVE, but from what I have read it is possible there to lose items (getting looted by an opponent in Darkfall, getting your ship blown up in EVE), while a character can also be killed. The player has than to get a clone active, which could be considered a save file. So it is possible in these games to lose very little or very much. Other games, like Aion, give an experience debt: the player must gain an extra amount of XP to get to the next level. This is a time penalty.

There is only one real currency in MMO’s and that’s time. Everything the players has gained has come from an investment in time. However, gold and equipment are not gained equally fast by all players, which makes converting such items to time difficult to generalize.

Making sense

Although it seems rather strange that a hero is able to escape a encampment filled with orcs in LOTRO, it is possible to imagine him/her desperately making a break for it. While the near loss of life weighs heavily for a few moments (the debuff period) the hero eventually recovers. It is easier in a World like Warcraft where magic is everywhere. Getting an entire star ship blown up and reappearing a few minutes later makes no sense at all, unless every STO captain has their own personal Q aboard.

It is easier to suspend disbelief in a fantasy environment than in SF, but that does not mean that SF should not try to make sense.

Severity

Games are entertainment first and foremost, but what is a game without challenge? Challenge means that the possiblity of failure. Failure is only real if it is felt. Failure teaches people to better play the game. Without penalties there will be more bad players, it’s as simple as that. People should know what they get into before they start, they should know what they can lose. Just like they agree to the EULA when they start up the game for the first time, they agree to the risks as well. So as long as players are able to know what their risk is, I am fine with any dead penalty that is severe enough to show the player that he made a mistake, e.g. basically nowhere is safe in EVE, while a setback in WoW will not cost more than about twenty minutes maximum (10 minutes Spirit Healer debuff and 10 minutes to do daily quests to get repair gold).

Summarizing

  1. Dead penalties are vital in teaching how to play the game.
  2. While the only quantity that really can be lost, this can be a great deal.
  3. Players should know their risks before starting to play.

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.

Lifetime style

December 6, 2009 1 comment

A few days ago Lord of the Rings Online launched its second expansion: Siege of Mirkwood. I have played LOTRO since launch, but always very casually. My Lifetime subscription is probably the cause of this: because I am not paying per month, I do not feel that I have to get each month’s worth out of it. A monthly subscription would have been too expensive for the entertainment I have gotten out of it so far, but the lifetime has payed for itself by now. I was expecting to get a similar return with Champions, but the jury is still out on if that was a good decision. I do not regret it so far.

The lack of pressure in LOTRO has resulted in a lack of pressure to really level and see everything. I have not even reached level 35 on a single character yet (level 65 is the current level cap). However, my characters have many deeds completed as well as serious crafting experience. Playing at my leisure has changed my entire approach to the game. In WoW I have always felt the need to accomplish things either raiding or PvPing, so while I did spent time on alting, I always had one character at the level cap and working on endgame.

My alting in LOTRO has gone in waves. A certain ability or play style would get my interest and I would focus on that. My first decision to focus just on my Guardian was quickly gone after level 20. Burglar, Loremaster and later Champion all quickly went up to 20. Other classes got at least a try. Even with the new Skirmish system I decided to give the Runekeeper a serious test drive.

Joining yet another empty BASH has not been good for my mood, I have to admit

I had fully expected to play Champions in a similar way, but I found my drive to alt really low. The open choice for powers made it possible to create the best play style for me. While I made alt as concepts of other heroes and to check out certain play styles, the enjoyment in my main style made me focus on a single character. I flew to 40 enjoying myself more thoroughly than in a long time with an MMO. Even when I ran out of interesting PvE content, PvP kept me playing. As the PvP community started shrinking at first, I decided to play more, hoping others might do so as well to keep things going. However, the lack of power balancing (e.g. Shallowtail Cut remains overpowered) as well as the stellar Dragon Age: Origins have reduced my interest in the game.

So I am wondering now if CO is going to become a few months per year game for me like LOTRO or will there come a turnaround and is it going to suck me in like it did at first? Will I regret buying the lifetime subscription? It’s up to the devs now.

Champion of the Rings

November 23, 2009 1 comment

When I bought a Lifetime subscription for Lord of the Rings Online as the game launched, I expected to play it for a long time, but not very intensively. That has been proven true as my highest level character is only somewhere in the 30’s (level cap is 60 at this moment, going to 65 in December). For some reason I never found the right class to play exclusively in this beautifully looking PvE game. I thought CO and Lotro together would be a good fit to satisfy my MMO gaming needs. However, CO was so much fun that I have not touched Lotro again till this weekend. I decided to dust off my Champion as I was more in the mood for fast melee leveling than in the tricky but satisfying play of the Loremaster.

The difference between the two games is stunning and it makes me appreciate the design decisions in both games more. Where Champions shows a comic world with bright colours, Lotro paints a rich but realistic landscape. Both work well for their genre. Walking and riding (using the stable masters) in Lotro from one quest spot to another can take ages. It makes the world feel big. On the other hand, the CO zones are big but the world is much more closely packed and travel powers trivialize most distances. When one would take a list of features in an MMO both games would be able to check most points, but the depth of all those features is much deeper in Lotro than in CO. This is as expected given the different in age of both games.

Combat…how enormously combat differs. I ran into a group of mobs in Lotro and got slaughtered. A similar group in CO would have been dispatched in moments. I really had to get back in the mindset that a similar level mob is a decent challenge. It is not easy going from superhero to a hero. I am glad that combat in Lotro will get revamped a bit in less than a month, because it is truly slow now and I know this is one of the reasons that I have not leveled more. The upcoming Skirmish system will also give Lotro a big new combat appeal, I think.

The grass is always greener on the other side. However, I am glad that I can easily step between worlds. My idea that both games would complement each other is true, for myself at least. However, if I had to choose between either at this moment, I would go for Champions Online. It may still be a shallow game, but the PvP (even with all its issues) would keep me better entertained than Lotro’s Monster Play.