Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Sacred Cow of LOTRO's Random "Legendary" Item System

Turbine has a dev diary up describing the changes to the legendary item system in the Mirkwood Miniexpansion. Jaxon has a summary; he and Doc Holiday seem to be pleased.

Superficially, the changes sound pretty friendly to players. We have vague language promising better random legacy traits that we won't be able to evaluate until the system goes live. There will be ways to make non-random improvements to existing weapons, replacing worthless legacies with stat boosts and upgrading the "quality" of important legacies so that they don't cost too much to upgrade. They're also tweaking the exp curve to make lower quality legendary items level faster, while increasing the exp required to level the raid-drop 1st age weapons (think Epic or Fabled quality in WoW or EQ2 respectively). But what hasn't changed?

Legacies are still random
They concede that it's a problem for players not to know whether a weapon is worth leveling until after they level it a bit to see if it picks up a crucial missing legacy. (In fact, they're overhauling the whole legacy pool for Champions because our weapons live or die on whether they get the legacy that boosts DPS for your preferred stance.) Now the strongest legacies are most likely to be handed out when you initially level the weapon.

The catch is that they're not willing to give up the slot machine. There will still be "a small chance" of getting one of the more powerful "group A" legacies later in the weapon's life. Even if you don't get quite that lucky, there will always be the chance that the RNG outdoes itself with the ideal assortment of "group B" legacies. Don't you want to spend time grinding out more exp on that weapon that's almost as good as your current one, just in case?

The Existing Relics are probably still random
Turbine is adding a fourth relic slot and allowing crafters to make relics that go in it. That's great for crafters, since players only needed a single crafted weapon back before Moria, and now they'll need replacement crafted relics every time they switch disposable advance-able "legendary" items. Or at least, that would be the case, except for the minor fact that they have also decided that they're jealous of WoW's self-only crafter perks. Don't you want to grind out a profession for no real financial benefit so you can have the best bonuses?

What they don't say very much about is those other three slots, which will still be filled using the deconstruction pyramid-scheme slot machine. These relics are still untrade-able, so you will have to level and then deconstruct large numbers of items to get them. Don't you want to go level more legendary items so that you can have a random chance to get the all-new tier 9 relics?

(Currently, each tier is made by combining five of the previous tier. If they stick to that exponential progression, a single random tier 9 relic will result when you combine 1.95 million tier 1 relics.)

Most of your item experience will be wiped
Hidden away on the third page is the revelation that Mirkwood-quality (level 61+) weapons will not accept item exp runes from previous content. Runes are the consolation prize for constantly replacing your supposedly "legendary" named advance-able items; you don't just have a random chance of getting relics, you get to transfer some of the exp of your old weapon over to your new one (possibly helping you leapfrog a few levels to figure out if the new one is worth owning in the first place).

If you're using a 3rd age weapon, like the ones that I have access to currently, you're simply out of luck. Your Moria quality runes are good for leveling Moria quality weapons to break them down for relic parts and nothing else. If you happen to have a raid-quality 2nd or 1st age weapon and you maxxed it out at level 60, you can get a Mirkwood rune instead. In case you were expecting a lot of experience out of that deal, Turbine clarifies:
Please note that the Mirkwood heritage rune received from these deconstructions will be a rune of lesser experience value than the Moria heritage rune received.

Don't you love leveling disposable legendary items so much that you're happy to be starting over from zero exp every expansion?

The Sacred Cow: Timesink, Timesink, Timesink, Timesink
I probably wouldn't be so hostile towards this feature if they hadn't misleadingly promoted it with reference to the ACTUAL legendary weapons of the Fellowship of the Ring, which they didn't discard and replace with random items from every orc they killed because these items were actually legendary. Indeed, they initially described the items as "mobile quest hubs", where players would get quests to do things that would improve their existing weapon.

Instead, the primary design feature of this system has been to get players to spend more time working on weapon after weapon without actually having to add new content to support that extra grinding. The changes try to paper over the community's complaints with vague promises that this expansion's weapons will be "better" - of course they will, or players would not abandon their current ones.

At the end of the day, Turbine's item advancement system doesn't really detract from the game - they've still implemented a high quality experience that I'm happy to play through at least once. At the same time, the sheer disposability of the not-so-legendary weapons removes all incentive to actually work on any of them, when the system is so clearly designed to wipe out as much of that work as Turbine thinks they can get away with, as often as Turbine thinks they can get away with it. Legendary items could have been unique and exciting; instead, Turbine has reduced them to just another timesink.


Longasc said...

Bravo. I was hoping for someone to post about this, as I was not entirely convinced of this overhaul either.

They have decided to make an annoying system less random. The system still sucks.

They still wasted the enormous potential that legendary weapons could have had and turned it into an annoying grind with a huge luck-factor.

They worked a lot to lessen the pain of this awful system - instead of questioning the system itself. Also see radiance - they stick with radiance, but will probably make it easier to get radiance gear aarly on.

I still have no legendary weapon (45), but I have already encountered the joys of dread or gloom, whatever it is called:

I walked past a bat statue in Angmar and just died because this mechanic demanded it. Great. :P

I cannot help, but I am not really that much looking forward into getting my legendary weapon, reforging it, praying to the slot machine, and being relieved that in SoM the random factor gets lessened a bit.

Does not sound too exciting, more annoying.

Why not create a system that gives very strong legacies with strong drawbacks, or strong legacies without them? Why do they still use the annoying levelgrind your weapon & hope for luck system?

Thallian said...

True, they lied, and true, its a grind. I am personally happy they are changing the leveling curve and some other things though. I especially like how you brought up that "mobile quest hub" quote. We haven't seen anything like that and I too was thinking more "unique weapon that you find" rather than "clay weapon you have to keep molding and molding"

unwize said...

The difference now is that it will be much much easier to find a weapon with the 'must-have' legacies on it.

Essentially, if you don't get your must-haves at the initial identification, you don't bother putting any IXP in it at all. You can even sell the weapon on at this point.

Heck, at level 30, a pretty tame item IXP investment, you will know all of the legacies that the weapon will generate. How is that not an improvement?

Most players will very quickly obtain an acceptable weapon, and only those with an excess of time and a tolerance for the grind will push on to get that perfect assortment of Pool B legacies.

Trust me, as someone who's been battling with the system since Moria released, this is a huge improvement, albeit only if Turbine do indeed agree that your must-have legacies belong in Pool A :)

unwize said...


The dread statues in Angmar aren't linked to radiance. You need to complete Epic Book 6 to give yourself a passive skill that will allow you to pass those statues :)

docholidayj said...

I do agree with a lot of your comments, there still is a lot of randomness in the system and it isn't perfect. However, SoM will introduce many ways to make them better. It still isn't quite the way that Steefal has explained it (although most things don't work that way) but it definitely has grown from the initial launch.

Based on how Moria worked, I pretty much accepted the fact that with a new level cap there'd be new weapons. However, class items (belts, emblems, etc) should be viable for a while if you have one you like.

Green Armadillo said...

@Long: The theory I suggest in May is that Turbine simply needed the LI timesink to continue in perpetuity because they're limited in how fast they can add new content.

@Thal: In some ways, I would be more okay with some of the totally random legacy traits if the weapon truly was some unique artifact that I was going to have for the rest of my career. The Bagginses never gave up Sting, even if having it light up like a torch around orcs could potentially be inconvenient.

@Unwize: A lot will depend on how many legacies remain, how well they are sorted in the two pools, and whether the random chance of getting more pool A legacies in place of pool B legacies is high enough to be noticeable.

For the Champion, I could see a division where boosts to damage go in pool A and boosts to secondary things - the heal from bracing attack, parry bonuses, etc - go in pool B.

(Here's where that random chance for extra pool A legacies could matter - the way the LP rank costs scale, you might get a much larger overall boost splitting your points three ways rather than two.)

I do think that the weighting of the system towards uncovering the good legacies at ID will help players avoid some of the leveling a weapon "just in case". The quicker level curve for 2nd and 3rd age weapons is also a bit of an improvement, if for no other reason than because sometimes you need a fair number of LP before the new item will be as good as the one you'r swapping out. I just suspect that they're not going nearly as far to limit the randomization as players hope.

@Doc: I hadn't thought as much about the class items. If the available legacies don't change too much, those could be relatively stable. Holding onto your old rune/etc longer certainly won't have as big an impact as weapon DPS on classes like Champions with attacks that are based on your weapon damage range.

Yeebo said...

It's an improvement to be sure. But still a good ways off from what we were promised pre-MoM. Also looks like I'll need to start hording components so that I can have have new second ages crafted whenever this goes live.

After the crafting changes went live a few weeks ago, I ended up with a great 2nd age threat reduction bow and a 2nd age axe that's worse than the level 59 3rd age one I'm currently using. A tiny increase in damage the rare times I enter melee isn't worth using gimped legacies.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

I posted some brief ideas about how to improve the system over on my blog. I thought making the legacies slottable like relics was a good idea. You'd still go get drops for the legacies, but you'd find the legacies you wanted. This would also make item crafting still useful, since weapons could have a different mix of legacies and stat bonuses (instead of all legacies or all stat bonuses for 1H weapons).

The posted changes may not be horrible. We'll see how much they fuck around with champion legacies before making the final decision. The pessimist in me says it's going to be a big nerf coming down the pipeline. (And why did all us bloggers pick Champions for our mains?)

I agree, the most disappointing aspect of this is the "self only" relic crafting. I thought these were stupid in WoW, and this doesn't seem different. I can see this leading to disappointment, though, "Oh, you got supreme master in Weaponcrafting, but the rune you really want is from Scholar. Good luck mastering that again!" Heh.

Longasc said...

@unwize: I finally did this quest, now I only cower near some of the statues. ;)

@Psychochild: Indeed, a lot of Champions are blogging. But it is the 2nd most popular class besides Hunters. I see a lot of people leveling Runekeeper alts at the moment.

My totally off-topic status report:
My Champion is level 47, but I have barely done anything in Forochel, the Misty Mountains and still have tons of quests in the Trollshaws. But I will try to finish my level 50 class quests first. Then I will probably be level 48.

Quite odd, I fear I am levelling too quickly, I was already for the whole game by now so much ahead in levels compared to the area I was playing in. But before the 50+ areas, Angmar is the only area besides Forochel right now that offers some challenging mobs. I still have to get used to the thought to go "traiting" certain traits in low level areas.

I have not yet entered Fornost! :( I also still have not joined a guild, but I already know a lot of people from active and apparently healthy guilds.

I also killed my first Uruk-Hai yesterday! :)