[LOTRO] The naming of pants, banners, and trash drops

Spare a thought for the devs who spend hundreds of man hours thinking up names for all of those quest rewards, reputation items, trash drops, and other widgets that players will take one look at, say ‘enh’ and immediately sell back to the vendor.

There was a time when a simple “sword +1” was enough to get any regular D&D player to bounce up and down on their seats with excitement. Even a dragon’s hoard might have no more than two or three magical items, and there was a good chance that one of those would be cursed. That simple “+1” held a wealth of meaning.

An item that was actually named was the stuff of legend (not counting player-named items which usually went by something basic like ‘kobold slayer’ or ‘my favourite axe’). In fact, giving players a named item was a hint that possibly adventures might ensue if they wanted to investigate the item’s history and lore.

bannerofhope

By the time MMOs took off, players wanted something more (or less, depending on your definition). Giving a fancy name to a quest reward made it feel more important, even if the item was stolidly non-magical, and there was never any chance for the player to find out how the item got its name.

LOTRO devs have an even trickier job because many of the items in that game are named in Tolkeinesque languages.

Many, but not all. This is Arbitrary’s Banner of Hope. Who knew Captains got the ‘cynical’ trait?

This naming of quest items and random drops has been on my mind while playing LOTRO because the trash drop naming in Mirkwood is decidedly odd. In fact, creatures and monsters in a murky marshes and dimly lit ancient forests seem to drop bizarrely gorgeous trash. (I think they share loot tables with the Lothlorien mobs, where it is still odd but slightly more comprehensible.)

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this as a player.

gorgeousloot So I’m busy killing some evil trees – I’ve always felt there was something very wrong with trees moving around, no good can ever come of it. And when I loot the corpse (copse?), what do I find?

Gorgeous twigs, gorgeous bark, and gorgeous heartwood. They didn’t look especially gorgeous to me, but maybe I’ve made a terrible mistake. Maybe that tree was gorgeous on the inside all along.

This pattern is mirrored for spiders (gorgeous webs), cats (gorgeous paws), and just about every other creature in the area. So maybe someone just likes the word gorgeous? Or elves just think that everything is gorgeous anyway …

Mirkwood vs Angmar

I’m really enjoying my travels through Mirkwood. The LOTRO team has learned a lot about quest layout since the game was launched and while it isn’t as fancy as WoW’s phasing and vehicles, the flow and the storylines are generally excellent. There’s a nice mix of kill quests, scouting quests (brilliant fun for a stealther like me), collection quests, and exploration, with the odd group quest that you can save up for later when a friend is around. The links into the lore and to the LOTRO story are well done and interesting.

I’m on a hunt to find Gollum in Mirkwood at the moment – even though as the player I know he’s probably off with Frodo et al, it’s still fun to find out first hand how the rangers get all their information and work together across Middle Earth.

Another place the game has improved from launch is in the zone design and artwork. I’m comparing a few shots below from Mirkwood, and from Angmar which was the original high end zone.

mirkwodcombo

These are shots from Mirkwood. What I love about the zone is the quality of the light. It is all quite murky and even tends to be brownish, but it is also a very inviting area to explore.

angbandcombo

And these are taken from shots in Angmar. Yes, it is supposed to be a barren zone, but riding around there was soul destroying (and not in a good, immersive way). It’s all very brown and yellow and tedious, even when they vary the pallette.

And in which my skirmish minion does me proud

I have struggled with skirmishes on my burglar. I love the concept and I like the skirmishes, but damn if they aren’t hard work for me. It’s a struggle when your character relies on crowd control to handle more than one mob and the CC either breaks or doesn’t apply to the mobs in the skirmish. Not to mention when the NPCs joyfully break any crowd control which you do successfully apply.

But recently, as I was able to sink more marks into improving my skirmish minion, it seems to have been paying off. He’s a dwarf guardian (ie. a tank), the idea being that he could tank mobs while I killed them. This took some practice for both of us, I was never sure he was all that keen to tank, and I certainly wasn’t.

But looking at us now, it’s like poetry in motion. And every time he taunts (the correct mob), I want to cheer.

skirmishtaunt

This is me attacking skirmish mobs while Oddi the dwarf gets in their face with his shield. Go team!

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?