Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Reflections of a Moria Late-comer

Allarond hit level 60 in LOTRO over the weekend, putting him at the level cap with just over a week to spare before Mirkwood arrives and raises it. What have I learned as a late-comer to the Moria era?

Top-notch Solo Content

I came to Moria expecting it to keep me entertained for a month or two. I guess that's approximately how long it lasted, but the quality of the experience was much higher than I expected. LOTRO's Moria is not just a large cave full of orcs, goblins, and Dwarven ruins. Instead, it offers substantial storylines and a variety of terrain that includes firey pits, watery depths, and snowy mountains.

Turbine can't match the high production value features seen in the new content Blizzard crafted for Wrath of the Lich King, such as world-altering phasing and a new turret/vehicle interface to offer a change of pace from the quest to quest grind. Even so, I'd set the two expansions up head to head for solo content available in a single play-through any day. Turbine nails the execution on the otherwise standard PVE content of Moria, weaving in Tolkien's lore with some of their own storylines to create a well-polished experience.

(FWIW, I've used almost all of the leveling solo content to get one character to 60, with about a zone's worth of level 60 content that I'm saving for the level cap increase next week; if you switch between the Alliance and the Horde, your second WoW character will have far more different content, even counting the similar quests, than your second LOTRO character can expect.)

The Downsides
The picture of the Moria era is not perfect.

In my view, crafting in the game is essentially WoW's system with longer "watch your character craft" bars, a more confusing mix of ingredients to buy from crafting vendors and create through subcombines, and a random chance to fail to craft your item (while consuming all your reagents) that can only be eliminated via a one-week cooldown recipe that isn't even available until you complete several reputation/skill grinds (two of which I have yet to complete on Allarond). At no point during the leveling process was I able to produce any jewelry that I would actually wear, and I probably would have saved time and cash purchasing food cooked by other players from the broker rather than buying the ingredients to cook it myself.

I've discussed my thoughts on the game's not-so-"legendary" item system in the past, so I won't wade into that particular timesink again here. Though I personally have not done group content, and therefore have not had to deal with the radiance grind, it is apparently bad enough to drive some players from the game.

And finally, we have the game's travel system. Even Pete at Dragonchasers, who generally supports longer travel time, concedes that LOTRO travel gets irritating when you actually want to go somewhere to accomplish some task - which is, essentially, the entire point of quest-based PVE leveling.

I really want to like the game's travel for tying travel shortcuts to local quest deeds and reputations, but the process of getting anywhere until you finish the grind in question is far too painful. I spent a lot of time reading blogs while Allarond rode the invincible goat somewhere, and that's simply not a good gaming experience.

On To Mirkwood
As a late-comer to the Moria era, arriving after the expansion's last non-paid patch, I missed a launch that Zubon describes as a "development debacle". One would expect that Turbine will be working hard to avoid a similar fate for Mirkwood, especially if they are effectively planning to charge for content patches henceforth.

Regardless of how the new experiment turns out, though, I'm prepared rank Moria as a success. The game delivers high quality solo-PVE content, backed by the rich lore of Middle Earth, and is well worth the visit no matter what happens to the business model down the line.


Longasc said...

Yep, getting lost in Moria is quite common. The map is not really a help, you need to know the ways. This also often leads to silly things like jumping to death intentionally, taking only minor gear damage and saving a lot of time to travel back to Anermerzekhem (this spelling is wrong for sure) in the Flaming Deeps for example.

I am also glad to be out of the cave, I like LOTRO's landscapes much more. But Moria is a giant cave, after all, and it was quite well done in this regard. I am a bit sorry that the Mirkwood will most likely be a brownish/gloomy wood, as far as I can see from the screenshots. But I guess lore does not leave them any other chance than that.

Finding the entrance to the Foundations of Stone travel point can drive newcomers crazy - I had a hard time finding it, and the mobs there were hard, too... yesterday I helped a guy who said "It is only 100m from me, but I cannot find it!" out of pure empathy. :)

I also quite like the instances and how they are done, though the hard modes too often require me odd and silly things to do!

Radiance and how the coins were distributed is soon a lesser concern, so I will just stop the usual rant about radiance here.

I quite liked Lothlórien, but somehow did not like how rep grind was shoven right into my face the very moment I entered it. It is not as severe, doing the Halls of Crafting and the book and non-book quests added quite a lot of reputation without having to do the repeatable quests too often.

Yeebo said...

I think Turbine really did a great job creating one of the most compelling dungeon environments among MMOs in Moria. It really does feel like an underground world.

They made some major misteps with teir VI crafting, updated PvP rewards, the radiance system, and the LI system imo. I'm also not a big fan of the switch from an open endgame to a gated one. I played the SoA endgame happily for months, I was burned on the MoM endgame within a few weeks of hitting 60. However, all in all the journey from 50 to 60 was well worth the price of admission from my perspective.