Every true, eternal problem is an equally true, eternal fault; every answer an atonement, every realisation an improvement.

It’s quite astonishing how my attitude to a game can alter through the simple expedience of changing how I approach it. That is, how I approach playing it, not how I approach the game itself, lest any of you were having visions of this author walking stiffly, military fashion, towards the computer from the front; then another time sneaking, hunched-over and on tip toes, before slithering into my computer seat from underneath the desk; another time bombing from atop the arm of the sofa while screaming ‘banzai!'; yet another time slowly crawling, sloth-like, with ponderous arms and improbably dextrous legs, from around the back of the monitor.

Heading into Lord of the Rings Online for the recent Update 5 found me completing about forty minutes of, to my mind, uninspiring epic book content. Even Tolkien’s epic tale had its slow patches, and I suppose I should be thankful that at least there was no sign of melancholy poetry or inapposite singing in the LotRO content. I don’t know, maybe the singing in Tolkien’s work was justified, but I always used to skip over reading it because it always seemed awkward to me, the middle-earthian equivalent of the silent mournful contemplation at a funeral being broken up by one attendee gently tapping their foot and then crooning “Oh baby, baby, how was I suppose’ t’know”. Feel free to add head jiving and hand claps to your own taste.

I’m not sure whether it’s the case that I’m simply tired of the game, or if this latest update –and, indeed, entire expansion– has actually been as lacklustre as I believe. I find myself beginning to wonder whether Turbine are starting to focus a little too much on in-game store items, or if this expansion is a stop-gap while they work on a more impressive Moria-like expansion for Rohan, or indeed if they’re working on another game entirely and have perhaps stretched their development teams too thinly. It certainly doesn’t help that the Warden class, which has been a favourite of mine for some time, has been tweaked and tampered with, presumably to the satisfaction and appeasement of raiders and spreadsheet optimisers, but unfortunately to the detriment of the soul of the class. Such a simple and elegant mechanic has now been twisted and tortured, with new parts bolted on, such that it has become a warped image of its former beauty, it is the Hollywood star unable to accept their aging gracefully, undergoing plastic surgery after plastic surgery until they no longer resemble their former selves, instead appearing more like some poor cousin of Gollum, one who has stood for too long in a wind tunnel while orange paint and superglue were fired with great force at their face.

I had dipped my toe back into the frosty unappealing waters of LotRO because I found the fire of my enthusiasm for Skyrim starting to flicker and diminish. Where before had been a roaring inferno of gaming passion, a veritable burning city of desire, there now stood a small camp fire: warm, safe, comforting, but without the flare, fervour or fascination of that former passion. The game had not changed, and I estimated that I had discovered but half of what its vast and ranging lands had to offer, so why had my view of the game changed so? I contemplated that perhaps I had changed the position from which I viewed the game. I took a step back and looked at how I was playing the game now, comparing it to how I had approached it when I first started out, back when it was fresh and I was unaware of how the world operated. It soon became obvious that I had, in the finest MMO tradition, begun to optimise the way I played the game. Instead of heading out from town and adventuring in the world, I had become a slave to the Quest Shopping List. When I wanted to adventure, I realised, I now immediately opened my quest log and looked at which items I could tick off, preferably those which were the quickest. Then… THEN (for shame) I would open the map and fast travel to the nearest location to my destination, so as to cut out any of that messy running around business. It was I who had devolved the wondrous emergent discovery-based game-play of the world of Skyrim into a simple MMO quest pipeline; I was a cog in die MMO Schleifen-Maschine once again, crushing content with maximum ruthless efficiency. All of a sudden, just like that, the game had become utterly bland, it was the bleak whiteout monotony of Skyrim’s storm-thrashed barren ice flats realised in game-play form.

Thus, last night, after achieving this minor epiphany, I logged-in to the game. I checked my equipment was in good order, headed out of the main gate of the city, picked a direction, and began to walk.

Six hours later I tore myself away, but only so that I could give this weak human shell the sleep it deems necessary to function. I still haven’t finished the main quest line, or many of the quests sitting in my journal, and now once again, I’m very pleased to say, I don’t care to.

7 thoughts on “Every true, eternal problem is an equally true, eternal fault; every answer an atonement, every realisation an improvement.

  1. bhagpuss

    You’ve sort of put your finger on one of the core problems of MMO design, I think. If you give players the tools that will allow them to optimise the fun out of the game, most will use them and stop having fun.

    On the other hand, if you withhold those tools few will have the patience to stay around for very long. Especially if they are aware that other MMOs offer the shortcuts they believe they need.

    In a single-player game like Skyrim it may well be easier for a player to eschew optimization in order to keep having fun. In an MMO, though, such self-control is easily undermined by the sight of hundreds of other players doing things faster and more easily than you are.

  2. Helistar

    Too true about the warden. The uniqueness of the class was the simplicity of the approach. Now it’s becoming a simple mess….
    But I don’t think it’s the request of the raiders, just the good will of the developers to “add something new and exciting”.
    I agree with the lacklusterness (if such a word exists) of the expansion. At times, I think that should just add a button when you reach level 60 with a tooltip which says “Revert to level 50. Your character will go back to level 50 with its former equipment. All Moria questlines will also be reset”. Players may complain about Moria, but at least it’s unique and interesting.

  3. Melmoth Post author

    @bhagpuss: If you give players the tools that will allow them to optimise the fun out of the game, most will use them and stop having fun.

    And invariably blame the developer. I wonder, for example, how many SWTOR players have downloaded ‘cheat’ sheets in order to find all the Datacrons as they go along in order to maximise their character’s stats, and thus find Datacrons seemingly to be an obstacle at best, and more likely a pointless annoyance.

    I think you’re correct in that this is quite possibly another single player vs multiplayer issue. Although that perhaps brings up another good reason as to why Skyrim works: a complete lack of character stats outside of the skills which are levelled up as you use them. It’s hard to work out if you’re being optimal if the only stats available to you are primarily developed by playing the game and actually using them.

    @Helistar: I’m undoubtedly running out of steam when it comes to LotRO, so it’s rather hard to be objective as to whether the content is indeed lacklustre, or I’m simply not going to enjoy new game content, no matter what they do.

    Mobstacles aside, I enjoyed Moria tremendously, and I think it’s one of the best zones I’ve experienced in an MMO to date.

    I do still think that many of the changes to the Warden are being driven due to its lack of viability in end-game tanking situations, but I think you’re probably correct that there was also some generalised tinkering that went on too, and I think it was that which broke the class quite badly for the recent expansion.

    Here’s hoping that they can return it to its former elegance, and if not, you have my vote for a ‘Return to level 50 and reset’ button.

  4. Syl

    “@bhagpuss: If you give players the tools that will allow them to optimise the fun out of the game, most will use them and stop having fun.

    And invariably blame the developer.”

    Righfully so, in my opinion. if I may refer to a post of mine on this exact same subject (http://raging-monkeys.blogspot.com/2011/06/placeholders-for-real-things-shortcuts.html), this core issue as bhagpuss pointed out, is the problem of short term vs. long term thinking (also see the article I linked to Gamasutra there, it’s fantastic).

    In my opinion, you cannot expect the player to understand this concept; to foresee consequences, know the greater picture and hence self-discipline himself. this is the developers job, to make right choices (and restrictions) for the players that are still good for them tomorrow, at least if they expect them to stick around. players do not always know what’s best for them, but devs should. it cannot be that I am being served so much candy today that my stomach’s gonna hurt tomorrow (=play/rush the first few weeks of each expansion, then unsubscribe because you’re bored).

  5. Phubarrh

    The exact same experience I’ve had in recent days…too many quests, too much fast travel, and the magic returning when I just set out on foot (not to mention dismissing Lydia for a bit!). I’ve been leery of trying out mods before the tools have even come out, but there’s a new one that seems to also promise a deeper experience: Immersive HUD (http://www.skyrimnexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=3222). It removes the compass, which you can pop up again by sprinting. Climbing a mountain to a new guardian stone turned into an adventure again! You might give it a shot…

  6. Roq

    I also find the quest content in Skyrim dull for the most part: The ******** quest in Solitude had me almost tearing my hair out in frustration – “When will this idiot stop talking?”; and the ********* mage quests are excruciating. I doubt that I will ever get around to finishing the questing part. On the other hand the open world, outside of the cities, is a complete contrast, an entirely different game that can be totally absorbing. I feel they that they should just throw out much of the baggage that has been added to RPGs in recent years – quests, cities, crafting, inventory juggling, … and just leave the exploring/discovery element … And that would actually be a sort of return to the roots of the genre – In essence, an open world Wizardry 1 with modern graphics and a story that arises like a jigsaw from the disparate events.

  7. Melmoth Post author

    @Syl: It’s a fair point, but of course, as a general rule, MMO players are buggers for trying to get around game design if it will expedite their journey to the level cap, no matter how defensive the game’s design is.

    @Phubarrh: I haven’t tried any mods yet, but I may just give that one a shot. I like the fact that sprinting allows it to pop up too, so the player can make a choice as to when to use it, rather than just relying on it constantly. Thanks for the heads-up!

    @Roq: I certainly agree that there are still elements which drag the game-play down, inventory juggling being one of them. However, I do wonder whether the inventory juggling is something which we’ve been conditioned to do, and as such I do keep questioning whether I really need to collect every half-valuable item I find in order to sell it and add to my already ridiculous gold pile.

    I must admit I haven’t found the questing to be too bad, and quests such as those in the Mage’s College offer a nice change of pace to the standard dungeon crawl, but, like many good things, they do need to be undertaken in moderation.

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