A tale of two expansions

expansion-mapvia Norman B Leventhal Map Centre at the BPL

It is always an exciting time for MMO players when a new expansion is announced or released. Expansions unlock new lands and continents to explore and colonise, new monsters to slay, new stories to tell, and of course newer and better loot. But new zones alone will not grab players’ attention any more – we also expect to see new gameplay, new classes, new professions or a variety of other new things to do in the game.

The most successful expansions are accessible to a wide variety of players, with something new for low level characters as well as the hardcore endgame crowd. And because new expansions succeed by catching the attention of new and ex-players as well as existing ones, there needs to be a smooth path into the new content for returning players too.

What’s not to be excited about?

This week, LOTRO players are taking their first steps into Mirkwood, an expansion which sounds as though it will deliver handily on all fronts. Arriving with a timely (oh who am I kidding, it’s at least 3 years overdue) revamp of the unpopular Lone Lands zone, the lynchpin of Mirkwood is the new notion of skirmishes.

A skirmish is a PvE instance with some random elements, that can scale for different numbers of players (including solo versions) and can also scale with levels from 30 up to the level cap. I haven’t tried them yet myself, although Pete@Dragonchasers is a huge fan, and played some in beta as well as in the live version. Still, I’m excited at the notion that as I level up my character, I can hop into a skirmish if I get bored of questing. Naturally they also reward players with tokens that can be spent on … stuff. I assume it’s good stuff.

One of the other facets to skirmishes is that players will be able to gear and trait up a companion NPC to help out. Pete describes experiences with his healer in the link above, but if you play a healer and would rather have a pet tank, that option is also available.

LOTRO have been experimenting in Moria with PvE content for soloers and small groups. There are single player instances which play neatly, like puzzles where the player has to figure out how to manage the pulls, avoid the patrols and see what effect different mobs have on each other. There are short three man instances. I believe those have all been quite successful, and I know I enjoyed the ones we beat although there are issues with class composition for three mans.

Skirmishes take this concept and hit it out of the park. Let’s have solo instances! Let’s also have group-based instances! Let’s have scaling instances! Let’s give everyone a friendly NPC to help with class balance issues! It’s potentially such a game changer that all MMO players should be curious as to how this will work out. Because if it’s a winner, expect this idea to get comprehensively nicked.

Mirkwood also offers the usual plethora of new zones and quests, new raids and non-skirmish instances, retweaking of classes and gear, some kind of reworking of crafting to make it easier to level, and a revamp of the legendary weapon system. Here’s the feature list.

So summing up: for levelling players, skirmishes are available from level 30 and upwards. The Lone Lands revamp covers characters from around level 20. For endgame players, there are the new zones, instances, and raids.

Having tried the welcome back week, I resubbed to LOTRO myself in time to see what all the fuss was about (we don’t get our expansion until tomorrow though, so I’m busy getting lost^D^D^D^D^D catching up with Moria at the moment.) I did appreciate the extra 25% xp given during the welcome back week and the company of arbitrary’s uber captain who basically killed stuff while I batted at it ineffectually, it was very nice to have a flying start.

Now let’s compare with Cataclysm. The really interesting thing about Cataclysm, aside from the fact that Blizzard is revamping the entire level 1-60 levelling game, is that we know very little about any new game play that is proposed.

It’s going to be a great expansion for returning players, or anyone who wants to start again from level 1. Loads of new stuff to do while levelling, and all the talent trees and gear stats are being reworked from the ground up to make them simpler and easier to understand.

Other than that… what endgame players are looking forwards to is more of the same. New zones, new quests, new raids, new instances. Blizzard will doubtless make great use of phasing to produce a stunning levelling experience, which has always been their strength. I cannot imagine that it won’t be a good expansion in that respect.

We’ve had rumours of a few cool ideas in the pipelines. Rated battlegrounds (so you can PvP with your raid group) and dance studios (design your own emotes) both sound fun, but they aren’t the meat and drink of an expansion.

So Tobold commented in his recent post on Cataclysm vs Mirkwood:

But if LotRO had a Cataclysm-like expansion which added lots of low-level content, and thus breathed life into the low-level zones, I’d be back.

Well frankly, I see new zones, skirmishes from level 30, and plenty of other revamps, if you have a lifetime subscription, what are you waiting for?

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15 thoughts on “A tale of two expansions

  1. Skirmishes sound a lot like the instances in DAOC: Catacombs – they would adapt to the levels + numbers in the dungeon, though they had a min/max level cap.

  2. I personaly dont like the sound the compainions. I mean I know its a pain getting a tank/healer/dps when you’re short but I dislike the idea of people not needing my leet healing skills ;)

    Demarkation! I shall organise a healers strike! Out brothers and sisters Out!

    But more seriously usefull as it is I see it as further discouraging people from interacting….although I’m sure a real human will outplay the AI unless of course they stack the deck in the NPC’s favour (ToGC champions with a gazillion Health )

    • I hope a real person will outplay the AI :)

      But I think it’s nice to have options for if you’re in a soloing mood or your mates aren’t around. And in some ways, companions would solve the problem of how group specced characters solo.

      I’m definitely curious to try it and see how it goes. Will report back! Also, now I have to decide if my burglar would do better with a healer companion or one of the others. Some experimentation may be in order.

    • I probably should have mentioned at some point that Skirmish Companions aren’t full pets, in that you don’t really control them in any but the broadest ways. You set up their skills before the battle (but changing those costs coin) and can set a target for them during the battle, but that’s that.

      So I think a real person is always going to be better than a companion.

  3. I can understand that people don’t care about other games/MMOs if they are content. What surprises me a bit is indeed how much fuss is made about Cataclysm. Sure, revamping the entire world is unheard of and an enormous feat by itself. Worgs and Goblins are, on the other hand, not so much different from Draenei and Blood Elves, basically what TBC offered.

    What WoW levelling content would have been if it had been launched in 2010, that’s Cataclysm. I wonder which lessons of quest design influenced the new low level zones. Jeff Kaplan was talking quite a lot about that, but he is working on the “next generation” MMO project, so I wonder how the quest design will be different from WOTLK.

  4. Given that LotRO is my current poison of choice, I’ve been playing Mirkwood a bit. I didn’t go into the new zone much, heard all the complains about people over-camping spawns of monsters. I’m not in a big rush; right before I logged off for the night I heard a few people brag about hitting level 65 already.

    It certainly was nice to be able to log on and actually play on patch day. Not like WoW where patch day means “try again tomorrow.” There were a few hiccups, and I kept getting the “server load” degradation message, but I still played and had fun.

    Overall it’s okay so far. The weapon changes don’t seem particularly well thought-out. A lot of quirks on top of the drastic changes affecting my main character (a Champion). We’ll see how things work out in the end.

    Crafting, which I really want to like in LotRO, seems a mixed bag. Crafters can now create relics for people to slot, but they don’t appear to be “must haves” until you get to the bind-on-acquire ones at the top level. More second age weapons to create at level 65, but the level 60 recipes are likely now obsolete since you’ll get the next level so quickly. People have said for Champions the level 63 weapons will be better than the best level 60 weapons….

    Skirmishes are fun! Despite what uzbeck says above, the soldiers aren’t really replacement players, they just compensate for the weaknesses of your character. I have a healer soldier for my Champion, but there are times when an actual healing player (like my better half’s healing-focused Captain) makes a difference. Having the healer NPC just means I (and the healer!) don’t have to worry so much about things like running out of range in a large battlefield, etc.

    We’ll see how the questing content goes. Mirkwood looks kind of small, so I expect it won’t be too involved. Maybe I’m wrong and they’ve packed a lot of stuff in there. We’ll see, and hopefully have fun. :)

  5. Call me in-secure ;)

    I actualy quite like the way LoTR is focusing in on smaller groups and scaleable content. As Spinks well knows i’ve been bitching and whining and generally QQing about the lack of this in WoW for some time.

    The rigid limit of 5/10/25 is causing me personal pain grief in WoW and one of the reasons I log only to raid, AH and the odd bit of alting currently. So mebbe LoTR would be better for me. Hard to give up on 80 levels of 210+ levels of ‘investment’ right now of course. The ‘seeker’ in me does love the idea of exploring Middle Earth though

  6. Thanks for the info – I’d heard about skirmishes, but didn’t realise this was trying to provide some group action for those who like an ability to solo (ie, the ability to flip the bird to jerks in a PUG since you can have fun without them, rather than flipping them the bird then…sitting around, basically in a worse off situation).

    • This is where I have to admit I haven’t checked it for months. But looks to be working fine for me. You won’t be able to log in and see the stats for this site but the stat counter itself is working.

  7. Skirmishes don’t “replace” dungeons or raids though so don’t worry that people won’t need your leet healing skills ever. And the companion healer is a poor substitute for a minstrel any day.

  8. Pingback: /AFK – Expansion Madness Edition « Bio Break

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