Some screenshots from Lord of the Rings Online

lorien

My burglar rides through Lothlorien, the Golden Wood. This is more of an achievement than it first appears because the elves won’t allow anyone in until they have earned enough reputation, which you do by running some regular and daily questlines.

Some people love this type of gating, others hate it. I was impressed that Turbine had tuned the amount of questing that you needed to do to a semi-reasonable amount. I had a handful of sessions of fairly relaxed questing, which involved some orc slaughter, some collections, some arrow delivery – in other words a reasonable spread of things to do. And I’m coming to the content long after most other people are off to Mirkwood.

So although I can see how people might have been frustrated when the Lorien patch first dropped at being herded through repetitive quests just outside the zone, I found it all quite relaxing. I enjoy the chilled out pace of LOTRO and this worked for me.

I was very glad that I had been advised to head out of Moria and start on the Lorien quests at level 58 though. I think that made the whole experience much smoother.

loriencity

You can tell that you are in Lothlorien from the graphical bloom. I rather liked the effect.

In this shot, my character is outside the gates of Caras Galadhon, the treetop city in the heart of the Golden Wood. And because this is LOTRO, you need even more reputation with the local elves before they will let you in. This was slightly more annoying because within that city were all the conveniences of auction house, vault, and so on.

Again, I was impressed with how the reputation grind was tuned. You get reputation from just about anything you do in Lothlorien, and I gained access to the city just before my character hit 60, which meant that I could bind there before heading off to Mirkwood.

Again, I know the Lorien quests weren’t universally popular. They are weighted towards exploring, gathering, collecting, and talking to NPCs rather than pure slaughter (although there are plenty of opportunities to kill orcs on the outskirts of the golden woods also.) I found it a breath of fresh air – maybe even literally compared with the claustrophobic orc-slaughterfest of Moria. Moving to one zone after the other was a delight, and certainly a change of pace.

So, I enjoyed my time in Lothlorien. It does feel strange to be questing in an almost empty zone. They do also go totally overboard with all the various different reputation items that end up in your bags. Bag space continues to be a huge and ongoing issue with this game.

In the end, I spent most of my tokens on Lorien-styled cosmetic clothing, because I knew I had no intention of hanging around long enough to grind out tokens for more useful gear. Especially since I imagine it gets replaced quickly in Mirkwood anyway. I peg this as one of the things you learn from having played a lot of MMOs, knowing which parts of the outdated endgame you can probably skip.

And in an oddly immersive way, it reminded me of how the fellowship in Lord of the Rings picked up elvish cloaks and clasps  to take on their way.

geode

And one last shot of Moria. In this screenshot I’m inspecting a giant geode.

Tokens! And why Ulduar-10 is a problem

Tokens have been fantastically popular in recent MMOs. The wonder of tokens is that they perfectly map onto grindy play.

Why we love tokens:

  1. They’re less random. You know exactly how many times you need to kill a mob in order to have access to the gear you want. But you will not have to sit there and watch the retribution paladin ninja the drop … again.
  2. They’re less class specific. No more gloomily disposing of drops which are for classes that aren’t even in your group.
  3. You get to choose how you spend them. If the vendor sells a ring, some boots, and a cool new mount, you can decide your own priorities for which order you want to buy. No more pretending to be happy because some gloves dropped again when you already have 3 spare pairs.
  4. More choices on how to get gear. If tokens can be transferred to other players, then you can grind cash in other ways and buy the tokens that you need. Or pick and choose between token gear and stuff that you get via other means.

Why we hate tokens:

  1. They’re boring. It isn’t as exciting to kill a boss, grab your tokens and move on as it is to get excited over that rare drop that might just be there.
  2. They take up bag space. Some games do solve this by providing special token bags. But WoW, as an example, still has plenty of tokens that sit smugly in your bags.
  3. They force grinding. Somehow the grind seems longer when you know that you need to kill a mob 200 times than it does when your item of desire has a small chance to drop on any of those kills. Even though the random mechanic could mean that you have to kill a lot more in the end. It’s intimidating to say ‘OK, I only need to clear this raid instance 10 more times’ … because that sounds like a lot.
  4. It’s confusing to newbies to have to deal with lots of tokens, many of which are totally devalued. Congratulations, you just picked up a heroic token! You only need 199 more and you can buy a totally awesome item which will be of no use after you have levelled to 80. The grind only makes sense if you’re there at the bleeding edge when it is introduced. Otherwise, it’s encouraging players to put in way too much time for the rewards.

So tokens are convenient, and give guaranteed rewards. But the grinds which they reward can become quickly outdated and there’s no indication in game as to which tokens you should just ignore.

This is a general problem with content becoming outdated in MMOs but not being either removed or explained. So what should devs do about old tokens? They become a foreign currency, useful only if you are travelling in the old content ‘world’.

Usually with foreign currency, you just convert it to the currency you want to use. The agent takes a cut and you get some cash you can use in local shops. But this is a problem for MMOs, because they don’t want you to get cash for local shops by converting old currency. They want you to get it from doing the newest latest grind.

The problem with 10 man Ulduar

OK, so the problem with Ulduar tokens is this:

Currently there are two types of raid token in Wrath.

  • Heroic and 10 man tokens, which share the same vendor.
  • 25 man tokens which use a different, higher level vendor.

In the next patch, with the next raid (ie. Ulduar) there will be 10 man tokens, which will use the old 25 man token vendor. And there will be new 25 man tokens which will use a different, higher level vendor.

Now the current 25 man token vendor sells nice stuff, to be sure. He sells 2 pieces of the tier 7 set, which is a great way to fill out the set if you have been unlucky with drops. He sells bracers and rings and cloaks. All nice raid gear. But not quite as nice as the regular drops from Ulduar 10 man. And of course, he won’t sell any pieces of tier 8. You want that from 10 man runs, you’ll have to get lucky.

The new 25 man vendor, on the other hand, represents nice upgrades. He will sell two pieces of tier 8, and also other items with better stats.

The problem is not that 25 man raiding provides for better tokens, gear, and upgrades. That’s fine. The problem is that 10 man tokens are practically worthless before the raid has even gone live. Lots of people currently run both 10 man and 25 man content, I’m one of them. I already have all the 25 man badge gear that I want for Spinks.

I’ll say it again, 10 man Ulduar badges are practically worthless as things currently stand. Blizzard can’t and won’t add better gear to the badge vendor because they don’t want people to log into the new patch and be able to immediately go clean him out because they had lots of Naxx-25 badges saved. They won’t add in a conversion from 10 man to 25 man badges in Ulduar for the same reason.

I think it will be more difficult now to entice people to run the 10 mans. The gear isn’t bad (hard mode 10 man gear is very good) and it’s still a great way to learn the encounters and have a fun, sociable, raiding experience. But everyone likes to achieve a variety of different rewards for doing the same content — tokens, chance at a good drop, cash, reputation. And cutting down the number of rewards from one type of raid while increasing it in another (with the addition of the legendary weapon) could well tip the balance.