Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Interactive Novel of Isengard

I'm currently part of the way through the solo storyline of LOTRO's Isengard expansion.  Like all of the game's recent and/or revamped content, the epic storyline takes the solo player through a core path of lore that runs parallel to the adventures of the Fellowship of the Ring.  In this Volume, the people of Dunland - and soon Rohan - prepare for war against Saruman.  Perhaps as interesting are the trends in the game's development.
  • LOTRO has always had NPC's involved in soloable portions of the epic story.  Even so, this expansion feels like it's increasingly putting the player in larger conflicts involving large numbers of NPC's, presumably in preparation for the battles that are to come in the IP over the next few years.  
Turbine appears to think this NPC is win for whatever reason.
  • Unfortunately, this setup leans very heavily on instances that actually forbid players to complete it in a group.  I realize there are some logistical issues to be managed - how to handle player moral choices, SWTOR style, and how to balance the content - and I haven't joined a LOTRO group in years, but I don't see this as a good thing.  In particular, Turbine spent a lot of effort a few years back building a scalable skirmish system but seems reluctant to use it in the story content.  
Is Tec-Win some form of fighting game combo-breaker that makes this NPC superior to Win? 
  • Like most recent quest-based MMO's, the story of each area (in this case, Dunland subzones) is told through lengthy chains of completely linear quests.  At least Isengard's epic story explicitly offers the option for players who just want to follow the epic books to skip the side-quests in each area.
Overall, the game is well-executed.  Like many story-heavy MMO's, I'm finding that the exp curve is a bit under-tuned - a player who actually completes all the quests to see all of the story will end up over-level compared to the content (currently level 73 and nearly to the level cap, with lots of content left to play).  Unlike many MMO's, though, I do still enjoy the story of LOTRO, even when a higher level makes the combat relatively under-challenging.  If there's any game that can get away with playing like an interactive novel, it would be this one.


Helistar said...

I'm on LotRO as well, and as much as the epic questline is ok, all the "leveling/rep grinding" quests tend to fall really short of the mark. Apart from some exceptions, the stories are lame, and the quests just "kill ten rats", but making sure that the rats are far from the questgiver to make you waste time.

I'm 2/3 through the Great River zone, and as much as I liked the "traitor in Stangard" questline, I've seriously started to ignore the quest texts in the following zones.

Anonymous said...

I just finished the Dunland / Isengard solo content. There did seem to be a reduced grind. Swift travel is readily available (without griding quest or rep), travel distances generally are shorter, resources plentiful, and some reduced back-and-forth.

It does feel like they tried a few new things compared to earlier regions, with more complex phasing and scripts. Unfortunately they made Dunland/Isengard almost totally solo; grouping is pointless, esp. with the forced solo instances as you mentioned. And I agree it is too linear: it feels like a passive guided tour.

But the main problem is: despite some decent stories in the sub-regions, the tasks required of the player are the same standard "kill X baddies" and click-on-X-objects-just-down-the-road. (These types of tasks only made sense in the epic questline in Isengard.) So your actions feel mundane and separate from the stories, not integrated in them.

They seriously need to rethink these reductionist "quests" that feel only like errands or chores because they are too short and too small. A quest should be: find the answer to the main question of the region/story, and let me find the way to do it.

Will they ever change questing for the better? No. It's easy to keep doing the same bland style quests, and many players don't seem to mind, so they will keep doing them.