Monday, December 28, 2009

Pros and Cons of Soloing In LOTRO

I'd originally been planning to do an awards-show style post at the end of the year, contrasting the solo experiences in my three solo games. Unfortunately, Syp beat me to that concept, complete with clever title and even an award graphic. After thinking about it for a few days, I decided that what I was planning would work better in the form of individual posts about each game.

Today's installment tackles LOTRO, and I'll be taking on EQ2 and WoW in the same format (three things I like, one thing that detracts from the experience, and a bottom line) over the limited remainder of the year. (I'll edit in the links to the companion posts here.)

Three Things That LOTRO Does Best
Best Solo Instant Action

LOTRO's new skirmish system offers the best instant action for solo players in the genre. Sign on, click a few times to pick your skirmish and level, and away you go for a 20-30 minute battle. The rewards are creative, and some of the skirmishes (the ones where you attack objectives, rather than defend) even allow for AFK breaks. In terms of time spent actually fighting the enemy, it's a major improvement over the daily quest grind in LOTRO or WoW, which is more parts traveling than killing.

Most Attention to Leveling Content

WoW's latest expansion and its patches included a five-level intro to Death Knights, a new profession, and no content whatsoever for existing characters below level 70. EQ2 did devote a part of an update earlier this year to a zone revamp, and has some content that scales downwards for leveling characters, but, again, focuses heavily on the endgame. By contrast, LOTRO has been systematically devoting a chunk of each patch to projects like revamping old zones and making the core epic book storyline more accessible.

Best of all, they're pulling this off with basically a one-man army (a dev named Orion), so the attention hasn't been translating into a major decrease in content for level-capped characters (as it appears that WoW soloers can expect in Cataclysm).

Best Kill Ten Rats Quests

Every game has the standard "kill ten rats" and "loot ten objects" quests. That said, if I got to add one new quest to one of the three games I play, I'd choose LOTRO.

With the deep lore of Middle Earth, those rats are probably servants of Mordor, or perhaps Isengard. Meanwhile, LOTRO's combat difficulty is the just-right medium between the trivial ease of WoW's solo content and the sometimes extreme difficulty of the recent solo content in EQ2. Where the other two games tend to jump straight from "easily soloed" to "requires a full group", LOTRO's quests include "small fellowship" content that may, with sufficient skill and care, be soloable. Having the option of that kind of attainable challenge adds a lot to the solo experience, and usually does not detract from your ability to complete quests and gain levels (though I'd certainly quibble with a few of the ratings ;)).

One Thing That Detracts From the LOTRO Experience: Quest Travel Times
There's no other game on my list where I will log in just to hit my hearthstone equivalent so its cooldown will be available again when I actually want to play, or where I sign on so that I can send Allarond on an AFK-travel route while I finish writing a blogpost. Travel in LOTRO is a pain, but it's a symptom rather than the disease.

Far too often, especially in the crowded, tight, stair-filled halls of Moria, questgivers dispatch players into different zones - think 5-7 minutes of travel times - to carry out some errand that will take 2-3 minutes to complete. Then, to add insult to insult (remember, LOTRO characters don't get injured, they just suffer hits to their morale ;)), you return to the quest giver and they send you right back to the spot you just left. Even within the same zone, travel can be a lengthy (but trivial in terms of difficulty, provided you stop and fight the mobs instead of waiting til you have a dozen chasing you) ordeal. If you think swimming across the entire length of Foundations of Stone takes forever, try walking.

In fairness, part of this may have been specific to the setting of Moria, where the narrow corridors often force your trusty invincible auto-goat to take some lengthy detours - the non-swift travel routes of Mirkwood seem to be much more reasonable in length. I even like the concept of having swift travel to previous quest hubs as a reward for deeds and reputations. In the end, the problem is not the difficulty of travel so much as its frequency. If you're going to have players raid the orc camp on the opposite side of the zone, have a friendly scout lurking nearby to give the players the followup quest.

The Bottom Line:
LOTRO offers the solo player two things - the world of Middle Earth, and a strong, almost-exclusive focus on bread and butter, kill and loot solo PVE content. Perhaps the latter would get stale more quickly without the former, but the two combine for an impressive experience. Though the game's repeatable solo and group endgame options are IMO the least interesting amongst my trio of games, LOTRO delivers very well on the core gameplay that is ultimately my reason for visiting the game in the first place.


Longasc said...

Regarding LOTRO Skirmishes: I wonder if Guild Wars does the same thing not even better with its "Heroes" instead of Soldiers. They work anywhere, and map travel is instant.

Almazar said...

I agree that the travel times are ridiculously long in LOTRO. The simple act of linking the travel points, like they do in WoW, would mean that we could travel from one end of the map to the other without having to get off the horse, talk to the stable master, and set off again.
I'm currently working my way through Lone Lands (the latest re-worked zone) and have found that they did a great job of removing the "go there, come back, go to the same place again" quests. Much better.
Great post!