The shepherd always tries to persuade the sheep that their interests and his own are the same.

I do wonder whether limiting the availability of legendary weapons to the raiding set is one of those attack roll fumbles on the part of Turbine, which results in their ranged assault taking an unfortunate intersecting trajectory with their own foot. I base this only upon my own circumstances, which may be atypical for the average Lord of the Rings Online player, but nevertheless some level of custom has been lost, even if that level equates only to the purchasing potential of the singular author of this post.

Confessing that I am somewhat averse to raiding would be as to your traditional vampire admitting that they are somewhat averse to sunlight; indeed, the last time I tried raiding my reaction at the keyboard could easily have been mistaken for the pained panicked gesticulations of one fighting off the unseen horror of supernatural fulguration, and I wouldn’t have blamed Mrs Melmoth for leaping with a cry from the arm of the sofa, blanket outstretched like a temerarious flying squirrel, and smothering me to the point of near death. And hopefully because she thought I was on fire, and not because living with my nightly game-induced rantings had finally driven her to manslaughter. So yes, I don’t raid – I may have mentioned this before. As such, upon reaching the level cap in LotRO, I was stuck for what to do, not because there was nothing left to do, but because I was prevented from my preferred path of ‘doing’ by the artificial constraints of the system. As with many MMOs these days, LotRO offers an alternative reward to experience points once a character has reached the level cap; I can’t remember if it was World of Warcraft which first offered this option in the form of increased gold, the first time a set of developers realised that “Hey chief, I could be wrong, but it seems to me that some players actually prefer basic questing over that curious hybrid of aggravated office politics enacted through the medium of Twister which we’re calling the ‘end game'”. I also can’t remember if LotRO’s system offers enhanced cash rewards, but one thing that it certainly does offer is increased item experience for the player’s legendary weapons.

In the last expansion I was able to earn, through working at the skirmish system, a token which allowed me to craft a Second Age legendary weapon for myself. Again, I think this probably wasn’t possible at the very start of the expansion, very much conforming to the ‘these are special weapons, for special people’ format of raiding being the One True Way to progress your character once it reaches the level cap. However, by the time I’d casually sauntered my way to the point where I could use a Second Age weapon, the raiding set were on to earning their First Age weapons, had thrown away enough Second Age weapons to arm the entire population of the Free Peoples, and thus it had been ordained from on high that the peasants of the player population were to be allowed to touch Second Age weapons; although they did have to hang a sign around their necks which read ‘Unclean’, so that everyone who mattered knew that these weapons hadn’t been earned through noble and honourable hard work, but instead these players had simply stolen their way to wealth through lesser means, such as skirmishing and questing.

It was fairly easy to reach the level cap in LotRO’s latest expansion, Isengard, and I still have a whole wealth of quests left to do – entire areas of the map that I’ve yet to properly explore, but I won’t go there yet. The problem is that I would feel I was wasting legendary experience by levelling up Third Age weapons (of which I already have a set which are maximum level), with the potential of breaking them down, and getting a portion of that experience back to apply to a Second Age weapon later on. I enjoyed the experience of crafting my own powerful weapon, naming it, and then levelling it up through questing and skirmishing; I liked working out which weapon title would work well with my weapon, of which I was quite proud, and then questing for the reputation to earn it; I was happy that the weapon would mean nothing in the wider echelons of power within the game, because it meant plenty to me. Hilariously I imagine that those Second Age weapons from the old expansion meant more to me than First Age weapons mean to most raiders, which seems to be more what the spirit of the system should be, even if the mechanics of it, along with the lamentable transitory nature of MMO possessions, results in something far closer to consummate consumerism.

I still use those Second Age weapons in fact, because although the power curve has moved on with the inevitable pressing drive of the expansion’s tidal wave –pushing all before it, and washing clear all that it leaves behind– they are still powerful enough in their own right for my character to quest happily and perform their role in a small group. They aren’t optimal, but they are meaningful, and for me the latter is the greater trait.

Thus, other than paying the rent for the kinship house, I won’t venture into LotRO for the time being. I’ve stopped listening to the podcasts and reading the discussions, and I haven’t looked at the LotRO Store in some time. I have, of course, read that Turbine are looking to start selling non-cosmetic (sinmetic?) armour in the store, a move which seems to indicate that they want or need to find other ways to make money from the player base. Having spent a not inconsiderable amount in the store in the past, I can say for certain that Turbine would still have my custom if they’d just opened up some basic options at the end-game outside of the standard raiding treadmill. Perhaps, though, I dwell in a curious no man’s land between the levelling game and the raiding one, which is only inhabited by a tiny subset of players. As one other curious anecdotal piece of evidence, I have noticed on several of the blogs dedicated to cosmetic outfits that recent submissions have consisted almost entirely of high-end raid items, as though some sort of creative coup d’état was taking place, such that even the realm of cosmetic outfit invention should be purely the preserve of the ‘privileged’. Yes, well done dear, you’ve earnt the highest tier raid gear and managed to put each piece into its correct slot, this is a creative cosmetic outfit how, exactly? You are a unique and special flower though, just like all the other unique special flowers standing around you.

Thankfully Turbine’s payment system is slowly spreading across the genre, such that now I can freely dip into many MMOs. More importantly, I can reward those MMOs specifically offering me rewarding content and game-play experiences. In an ideal world my purchases would offer justification to a developer to produce more content of that ilk, but such feedback loops still seem to be in the embryonic stages of development at the time of this writing. One thing seems clear, however: that exclusionist approaches to the end-game cannot be the best way to maintain a healthy balance of player types, and that if you’re going to exclude non-raiders come the end-game, then why bother with a levelling part to your expansion at all? Concentrate on making exquisite raid content and keep your raiders happy, and at least you won’t be offering half-baked raids because you’ve split your resources, trying to maintain an illusion of a levelling game which has long since fooled anyone.

Not all sheep willingly follow the herd, and it seems to me that developers need to work out whether they should work harder at convincing the players that their interests are the same, or whether they should let part of their flock wander away, and instead concentrate on building the best enclosure possible for the remainder.

9 thoughts on “The shepherd always tries to persuade the sheep that their interests and his own are the same.

  1. darkeye

    See I would happily give up raid exclusive costumes for a flat progression curve at level cap, I mean how much more protective is steel armour when it is inlaid with gold and sparkling gems.

    No love for the LI system either, it is stupid and pointless. Turbine could easily remove legacies, roll the best ones into the class traits (about time there was another four traits per traitline), and delete the rest. It’s tying character customisation to a disposable item, and the only reason is so the grind can be reset. There is a big revamp coming for the warden and most legacies are getting changed, it’s stupid that when the update goes live not only will points be reset, but players will find legacies on their LIs that they likely didn’t want and new desirable ones they do, that’s a huge hurdle to reconnect with a class.

  2. Melmoth Post author

    @Bronte: Well, if raiding is the theme park, and ‘not raiding’ is the sandbox… then I suppose so. But I think it’s a bit more nuanced than that.

    @bhagpuss: Of course, I don’t presume to tell them their business; I can only tell them why they don’t have mine.

    @darkeye: It’s a shame because, as many of us have stated before, the LI system could be wonderful – a weapon to call one’s own, which is personal, unique, cherished, and as much a part of one’s character as anything else. Instead we have, as you rightly say, yet another gear grind with a built-in Reset At Expansion button.

    The Warden changes are another concern, which I’ve spoken about previously, and probably will again. I think it will be a good case study in how elegant game design becomes warped and mutated into a complex monstrosity due to feature creep, based upon trying to wedge the class into more traditional roles, to which it isn’t suited.

  3. Moridir

    The grinding for gear and the standard raid/pvp-endgame are what have driven me away from SWTOR, and MMO’s in general. I had high hopes for it, but around 5 minutes after reaching level 50 it became apparant it was just the same old.

    I think my love for MMO’s won’t be rekindled until Planetside 2 is released. There will be leveling included as well, but a lvl 1 player will actually have a good chance to take down a player at the leveling cap.
    This opposed to first having to have your backside handed to you for several weeks before being able to make a dent in higher leveled/better geared players’ armour, which is and has been the trend in MMO’s for many years now.

    Of course there’s a huge difference in playstyle between a MMORPG like SWTOR and a MMOFPS like PS2, but for me the fun-factor for the latter is just much higher.

    I just think I’ve had it with the whole “level up and then gear up before being able to do PVE/PVP without being embarassed about your performances”. We’ve had that for years, in my opinion it’s time for a change.

    In the meantime I’ve bought myself CoD:MW3 with some gift certificates I still had lying around. That’s about as far from an MMORPG you can get, but it’s just…instant fun, every time from the moment you start playing it to the moment you quit :)

  4. Melmoth Post author

    There is definitely something about the instant gratification of being able to just jump in and play, which the fundamental structure of MMOs seems to preclude. It seems that there’s still a desire for these games to strike that fine balance between immediate accessibility and complex strategy, the proverbial ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’.

    Guild Wars comes close (indeed, hitting the mark in the eyes of some, I’m sure), and EVE has its incredible and varied levels of mastery that can be achieved, although perhaps still has that slightly daunting barrier to entry (much of which could probably be alleviated through UI refactoring, I believe). Interestingly, both of these games are noticeable, in part, for their lack of traditional MMO gear grinds, and their fundamental change of philosophy with respect to character advancement and power gain.

    It can be done and it can be successful, and I can only hope that games such as Goblinworks’ Pathfinder Online can put it into practise, in combination with all the good things that traditional Diku-based MMOs have developed (which is a long list, despite my incessant complaints on this blog perhaps convincing people that I believe otherwise).

  5. Anjin

    You should be taken out back and whipped with a switch for that sinmetic joke.

    Other than that, you are speaking a good amount of sense, which I find unusual for this blog. :)

  6. Catrean

    If you want instant PvP in Lotro roll a monster player. No gear, no legendary weapons required. There is alot of content in game that does’t require the grind, seems you want all the shiny bling without raiding to get it. I have 2 level capped characters, one geared with BoE drops(several items from the auction hall and crafted jewelry) and one with raid gear. There is a definite difference in their performance, but the BoE toon can join in endgame activities and PvMP.

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