Thursday, August 27, 2009
Allarond and the Well of Doom
When I haven't been blogging about Cataclysm, I've been making some progress through LOTRO's Moria expansion. Allarond has hit level 55 (out of the expansion's level cap of 60) and has cleared out the first two zones' worth of solo content inside the mines. Without further ado, the good, the bad, and the silly.
The Good: Challenging Solo Content
As I've written before, the devs face a lore conflict with content in Moria. Even with party members like Gandalf and Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas, you don't quest in Moria; your quest is to get out of Moria alive. The Epic Book story implies that things will take a turn for the worse, but the early going has been just like any other MMORPG, pacifying the mines one quest hub at a time.
That aside, the solo content is absolutely excellent. For reasons I've discussed at length, WoW doesn't offer much in the way of challenging solo content and EQ2 tends to jump straight from easy solo content to group content. Moria has really pushed my Champion to the limit in ways that I haven't seen in other solo games of late.
An NPC healer keeps me alive in a solo instance boss fight
Some of this is accomplished via fast respawns, frequent patrols, and "signature" boss mobs that are tougher than regular enemies. The game also offers solo instanced content, sometimes including helpful NPC's to assist with the tanking or healing duties. Meanwhile, the game manages to tell a story of the the Dwarves attempting to take back their home.
The Bad: The Disposable Advance-able Item System
Turbine hyped the Legendary Item system as a way for players to have their own version of the named weapons the Fellowship of the Ring carried into battle. Unfortunately, the Turbine needed another timesink more than they needed the system to be any fun for players.
The relic slot machine
A legendary weapon's base DPS is based on its level, but all of the weapon's stats are randomly generated when you pay a forgemaster NPC to "identify" it for you. I've identified 20 or so legendary weapons so far. The majority had totally useless bonuses, a handful offered marginal or situational bonuses, and one or two weapons were actually worth considering. So there's a random number generator, that's fine in and of itself.
Then there's the relic system, which will seem to WoW players like an unholy union between disenchanting, jewelcrafting, and a slot machine. Relics are obtained primarily by breaking down existing legendary items. Of the six relics in any given tier, 4-5 of them will have irrelevant stats for your class. Moreover, the only ways to get higher tier relics are A) to level up the legendary item before you deconstruct it or B) to combine five current tier relics for a random chance at random relics from the next tier up (again, remembering that most of those relics will be useless to you). Fine, yet more RNG.
The problem is when you foolishly attempt to use your hard-earned relics in your latest randomly generated weapon.
You get to reforge your legendary item every time it gains 10 levels, rescuing all of the relics you had slotted in it. Bear in mind that you might have had to combine a hundred tier 1 relics to get up to one useful tier 4 relic, so you want to get those relics back if you're going to stop using a weapon. You're obligated to take your first weapon through to level 10 to enter the mines in the first place, and I have gained more than two whole player levels since - the expansion only added ten - without gaining enough item experience to recover my relics from that initial starter weapon at level 20.
What if you find a great new weapon and you can't wait to try it out, but your most valuable relics are currently sitting on a weapon that's halfway between reforges? Now you get to lug around a weapon you don't want, with its exp gain slowing the rate at which the weapon you're actually using can advance, just so you don't get penalized for the mistake of foolishly sticking with it the last time you had the opportunity to recover your relics and cut your losses.
(Adding insult to injury, the starting weapon cannot gain combat or quest exp when it is not equipped as your actual weapon; you don't just have to spend exp on it to get your relics back, you actually have to keep using it, unless you're prepared to swap it in for quest completion and/or the exp-granting runes that you sometimes recover when breaking down an item you have previously leveled.)
In a similar vein, because weapon legacies are entirely random, you have no good way of predicting whether the one that just dropped is "close enough" or whether you're going to come across a far superior option right after committing to at least ten levels by socketing your precious relics.
Overall, the system not only fails at its stated lore purpose - how often did we see the members of the Fellowship breaking down their weapons for parts? - but it also removes all the fun of the supposedly customizable items. In practice, any given weapon I have found will not have more than two stats that you want to improve anyway, so there isn't really that much in the way of difficult decision-making for lack of options. It is too bad that Turbine decided to exploit this system to create an endless and frustrating grind, because it was otherwise one of the most interesting concepts in the expansion.
The Silly: Death Travel
As we all know, you totally don't get to teleport in LOTRO because that would break the lore. Only, two of the classes get to "swift travel" instantaneously off-camera to a large number of locations in the game. But, since I'm not one of those lucky classes, I need to run places. Unless I get lost trying to run past a bunch of orcs en route to the 21st Hall. The path that I couldn't find while running as if I was being chased by a pack of hungry worgs was immediately apparent once the not-so-hypothetical worgs in question bit me until I fell over of demoralization and then decided that they were too bored to eat my defenseless body.
So Allarond found the 21st Hall for the first time by clicking the "retreat" button. This had the unfortunate side effect of incurring a 10-minute "defeat" debuff. After unlocking the local Invincible Goat Travel Route, I decided I might as well ride back to the settlement where I had been questing previously. I went AFK while riding the Invincible Goat, confident that none of the orcs, goblins, man-eating bats, and vampire-women would dare mess with my invincible goat. I came back to see that the goat was about to ride past the Chamber of the Crossroads, another small quest hub. I happened to have a quest to go there, so I hopped off, unlocked the local branch of Invincible Goat Travel Ltd, and went to talk to some Dwarf.
Then I noticed a giant well in the center of town (see the picture at the top of the post). I couldn't resist, I had to know what would happen if I jumped in. The answer was a deed and a title for having jumped in the well, poor Allarond falling over again from the demoralizing embarrassment of having plummeted several hundred meters, and yet another Invincible Goat Travel route unlock when the handy retreat button caused me to find yet another town I had never visited.
Remember kids, handing out a title to reward players for flaunting the game's health system (there's no instant healing in the lore, so all your "damage" is actually morale) is fine. Allowing the other seven classes access to the same array of swift travel that the two lucky chosen ones get, on the other hand, would be totally devastating.
Reflections on Moria
Oh hai, giant sight gag.
Overall, I'm enjoying the game pretty well, despite its major new feature (the legebdary item system). The content and the zone design are both excellent. The gameplay is challenging and exciting. Even with all the stretches to the lore, it is legitimately fun to climb over a mountain ridge and discover the carcass of the Balrog lying where Gandalf left it.
I'm not in a hurry to clean the expansion out - if I was, I would probably have hit level 60 by now, and there is zero chance that the legendary item roulette will keep me in the game a single day beyond when I run out of actual content to complete. Regardless, the quality of what I have found in the game is enough to make up for the shortfall in quantity.
According to the Wiki, the later chapters of the Epic book storyline do actually require groups, so it is certainly possible that I will eventually find myself cut off from the narrative that is the game's greatest strength. In the mean time, though, Moria is definitely shaping up as a great place to visit as new content is available, even if I wouldn't want it to be my MMORPG home year-round.