Thursday, August 27, 2009

Midway Through Moria

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.


Bertie said...

My LOTRO account hasn't been active in some time, but my possibly obsolete understanding is that you should always be levelling 6 weapons no matter what (abandoning them after the first reforge thing if their stats turn out wrong, or earlier), because the desconstructing process gives back item XP that can be applied to your "main" weapon or the one you want to level fastest and you get the relics to boot. But maybe I'm wrong about this.

Andrei Filimonov said...

Deconstructing a leveled weapon may give back exp token. Usually this happens for weapons past level 20.

Longasc said...

I read about the legendary weapon system already some time ago and still do not understand it completely. Plus it really sounds dumb, grindy and unfun. Really, a wasted opportunity.

Erm... I am playing LOTRO very casually as I found this to be the way for me to enjoy the game the most. I actually planned to play Aion, but I am not sure about this anymore.

Would you suggest I should simply SKIP this legendary crap system once I get legendary weapons and just use "normal" but better weapons of epic quality level? Or are legendary items more of a must have?

Anonymous said...

It's most efficient to level 6 legendary items at once. Basically, the item experience points (IXP) are shared between all items you have slotted, but the greater the number of items, the more IXP is doled out, in all. It's the same formula used for normal experience points in fellowships.

From the Lorebook:

"The fellowship bonus is based on the table below:

2 members = 20% bonus
3 people = 44% bonus
4 people = 60% bonus
5 people = 80% bonus
6 people = 116% bonus"

So if you kill a monster worth 300ixp, and you have one item slotted, that item gets 300ixp. If you have two items slotted, each gets (300/2 * 1.2) = 180ixp. If you have 6 items slotted, each gets (300/6 * 2.16) = 108ixp each.

For time efficiency, it makes sense to deconstruct items when they get to lvl 2 in most cases. An exception would be if you have maxed out items and the ixp would be wasted - in that case it's most efficient to level up your disposable legendaries to lvl 11 or even 21 before deconstructing.

With the new bounty quests, it's trivially easy to level up legendary items. You can gain over 500,000ixp in about 30-40 minutes' work; doing this 6 times (at a limit of once per day) is enough to level a First Age item to lvl 50. The bounty quests are lvl 60 and so you can complete them from lvl 55 onwards.

@ Longasc: Legendaries are better than other items pretty much across the board; it's very rare to find a non-legendary that can compete with even a lousy legendary. Better to have legendary crap IMO; even if you only do it very casually you can still get some decent stuff.

Also, a note: Legendary Items drop like candy on Halloween - on an average evening of play I get literally over a dozen legendary item drops (admittedly, for 9 different classes), plus dwarf tools and tablets that can be exchanged for class-specific Legendary Items. Even with the admittedly wonky RNG and the occasionally lousy selection of legendary legacies, it doesn't take that long to get a decent item.

Green Armadillo said...

@foolsage: Thanks for the tip on deconstructing at level 2. If I had known that before I turned a bunch of Dwarf Tools into level 1 relics by deconstructing weapons at level 1, I would probably have a replacement for the relic I'm trying to get back from the starter LI. (There's still absolutely no excuse for not allowing it to gain exp while it is not equipped, when every other LI in the game is allowed to do so.)

I am indeed aware of the runes for deconstruction, the bonus for slotting six relics, and the level 60 bounty quests (which I cannot get at the moment, since I am level 55). The bounty quests are, in fact, exactly why I'm not doing these things.

Slotting six weapons gets me an extra 56% item exp, divided six ways and further penalized because you do not recover all of the exp from an item you break down. This is still a long-term gain for me because it means more, better quality relics.

The thing is that the total amount of item exp we're talking about is TRIVIAL in comparison to what I can get from the bounty quests (if they're not nerfed) at level 60. So, I would be making a real sacrifice in the present - slower progress towards getting rid of my crappy starter LI - in exchange for a long-term payoff that isn't actually worth that much.

And yes, the drop rate on LI's is indeed pretty high. That's precisely why the relic recovery system is such a problem - you're GOING to get an item you would rather be using before you have the opportunity to get to your next reforge. You can design the system to favor constant replacement and maximal timesink OR you can design the system to favor getting a great weapon and investing in it. Doing both at once is what makes this system so irritating.

Anonymous said...

@ Green Armadillo: "I am indeed aware of the runes for deconstruction, the bonus for slotting six relics, and the level 60 bounty quests (which I cannot get at the moment, since I am level 55)."

The quests are lvl 60, and thus can be accepted and completed at lvl 55. E.g. I ran the bounty quests last night on my lvl 57 RK, and we had a lvl 55 Minstrel in the group.

Green Armadillo said...

Hm, well, that changes my maths slightly for levels 55-59 (I maintain that it's not worth slotting the full six items before 55). Now I suppose the question is whether I can find other players who are willing to bring a level 55 non-healer along for the ride (I presume I can't solo the soloable ones at that level?). I'll give it a shot during peak hours tonight and see what happens.

Anonymous said...

The soloable ones are: Morrafn the limrafn in Fornost, Mangepaw the wolf in Rushock Bog, and Rothlug the worm in Talvi-muri. They're all signature mobs and all lvl 60 I believe. Rothlug also has two normal worms you have to kill to spawn him, and Morrafn has 3 limrafn to kill before spawning him.

Generally people are pretty good about allowing lower level people to come along. Basically, 2-3 skilled lvl 60 players can probably kill all 5 bounty mobs with no real problem, so anyone else coming along just makes it easier.

Yeebo said...

I personally keep two main legendaries that have maxed DPS and maxed gems and four that I level to 11 and deconstruct at all times.

If you are a total min-maxer, leveling weapons to 2 and then deconstructing is indeed the quickest way to build up gems and relics. However, a level 11 weapon has a better chance to return its item XP and has a better chance to yield higher level gems (rank II and rarely III). It gives you one reforge on each of them, so you can be darn sure their legacies suck. And it also means you aren't having to swap new relics in every 30 minutes (which is the main reason I use the 11 strategy personally).

Also, I have the impression that you aren't maxing the DPS on your main hand weapon first. Really, that's the only thing that is consistently nice about a LI (regardless of legacies), especially on a champ or hunter. Max the DPS first, I promise it will help.

Also, keep at least one extra copy of all the gems and relics that you use at all times. Just don't use your last one or two on combines. Once you get serious about leveling relics that will not be a problem (unless you are using something in tier VI+). That way if you stumble across a second age or something with utterly awesome legacies you can slot it right up.

More conversational: I pretty much completely agree with you about Moria. A very fun ride with a great storyline. The challenge and variety of activities for a solo player is also "just right." In fact, I've gotten so used to it that it's become hard for me to play "binary" MMOs (like EQ II and WoW) where everything is either cake or impossible.

I also agree that the LI system is a big let down. Swapping into a new legendary item of the same age tier every few levels for better DPS just seems to fly in the face of the idea of a weapon that "grows with you, and becomes part of your story." And the whole gem/ relic/ legacy roulette things is simply ridiculous.

I got to 59, traded in 15-20 tablets for LIs until I got two with decent legacies, and haven't bothered much with the system since. By then I had built up to decent items for all three slots in both weapons. I might switch to second age weapons eventually, but they would only be modest upgrades over what I'm using. And the legacies would more than likely bite.

Yeebo said...

Edit: I feel compelled to add that there are a few exceptions to the "max DPS first rule" even on a Champ (where almost all of your skills are affected by your max main hand weapon damage). But they are all pretty obvious (e.g., 5 levels of across the board crit is likely better than one level of DPS). Being a vet of these games, I'm sure that's obvious to you...but maybe not to anyone that would read my comment.


Green Armadillo said...

@Yeebo: Since I've started the bounty quests (see next post), level 11 is very easy, and I'm even shooting for 21 when I don't have a backlog of items to level and deconstruct. I'm not in a huge hurry to get the items I'm actually using to level 30, since that's their cap anyway.

I do indeed focus on DPS first, with some points in my stance's damage bonus (been messing with Ardour stance of late, I have improved Ardour parry and damage on my sword and improved Ardour evade on my rune) as the DPS ranks get more and more expensive. I only spend points on other things when I'm at level X8-9, if it's clear that I'm not going to be able to afford the next rank of either before my next reforge.