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.

Looking for that magic compass

jack_compass Which instance should I go to next, magic compass?

There are lots of different types of quests available in quest-based games. Quests where you have to kill things, quests to collect things, sightseeing or exploring quests, dungeon quests, holiday quests, daily quests, pvp quests; and that’s just a short example. Designers use quests to encourage players to try  just about every type of content in the game, and they’re a very effective way of steering people towards places, zones, or content that is appropriate for their level. We usually call these particular quests – the ones which simply send you from one area to another – breadcrumb quests. If you follow the trail of breadcrumbs, you’ll get to where you need to be.

Much like a magic compass really. You should be able to log in, check your current quest log (or look around you to find new quests if it is empty) and get a bunch of ideas on where to go next.

And where the magic compass doesn’t quite work out, maybe because of changes in the game since the original quest was put in, what then? That’s where having other players around is supposed to fill in any gaps, in theory at least. They should tell you where a quest that sends you off to grind an outdated reputation is a waste of your time, or when the level requirements of an instance have changed so that you’re now over geared for it when you get the quest. While this is great for people who play with friends or in busy guilds, a lot of players really don’t have this type of advice on tap.

I was thinking about this due to experiences in two different games recently:

In LOTRO, I logged into my character and just …. didn’t feel like doing any more quests in Moria. It isn’t that I hadn’t enjoyed them, just the very slow pace (it took me an hour to do a single quest on one occasion, it’s not a horrid thing in itself but I felt as though I was never going to get out of Moria) was getting me down. I knew I could run more skirmishes, the breadcrumb quests for those which came with the new expansion were great. I knew I could run some holiday quests, again the breadcrumb quests there was fine, but those gave no xp. It was only when I remembered Arb telling me that she thought 58 was about the right level to go try some of the questing outside Lorien that I thought to head to a new zone to shake off the lethargy. And having the sky back over my head did the trick for me, it was exactly the change of scenery and pace that I was looking for.

But the in game magic compass hadn’t gotten around to sending me there yet, it was tuned to the Moria expansion and had expected me to do some more quests there first.

In WoW, I’ve run heroic instances with players who really would have been benefitted from running a few more of the normal level 80 instances before hopping into the heroic dungeon finder. Especially the newer instances which give great rewards on normal as well as heroic mode. And when I say benefitted, I mean we totally carried them – I don’t mind this if the group is fine to clear the instance, but I also wish I could get those players to listen to me when I play magic compass and suggest where I think they’d be better to go next for some practice/ gear in case the next group isn’t as nice. I think what is happening is that people (not unreasonably) assume that the random dungeon finder is a kind of breadcrumb quest or magic compass that will throw them into appropriate content. That’s almost but not quite true – it does some gear checking but not anything in depth. It won’t tell a player where the easiest upgrades for them might be found or suggest, ‘Hey, I see you never ran Nexus as a healer before but you are queuing as one now, want to try it on normal mode first? Or how about Trial of the Champion normal, there’s a great trinket there you might like?’

Not only that but when you hit 80, suddenly a lot of new instances are open to a player in WoW. All the old level 80 instances on normal modes, the new ones on normal mode, and probably the old ones on heroic as well. That’s actually a lot of possible tactics to try to learn at once if you let the random dungeon finder pick for you. It’s a random compass, not a magic one. So how exactly should a new player know the doing the old instances on normal mode is a great way to learn them and get initial upgrades, doing the new ones on normal one gives great upgrades even above the old heroics, and running old heroics gives better badge rewards and a different set of possible upgrades? Not to mention the various level 80 dungeon quests which are easy to miss if you are levelling fast and skipping zones.

I don’t know the answer to that one. But if a game offers magic compasses all the way through, it’s not surprising if players get used to having them available and expect any new content-finding tools to show a bit of smarts as well. Yes, it’s a lot of upgrading to do every time new content is put in – these types of tutorials and pointers would be an ideal candidate for player generated content. Us players are great at generating guides and advising new players on what to do and where to go.