Monday 14 May 2007

Tryin' to find a job of work

After deciding to stick with my Captain in Lord of the Rings Online, I've mostly been playing that this past week or so, getting up to level 18 and Chapter 11 of the "book" quests. Along the way, I managed to completely fill my inventory with assorted junk, and with crafting materials taking up more than a bag, I thought I'd better take a while to sort that out.

My Captain is an Armoursmith by vocation, which includes three professions: Prospecting to mine and refine ore, Metalsmithing to make metal components and armour, and Tailoring for cloth/leather components and armour. Crafting in LotRO is obviously designed to encourage co-operation between players, as few professions are entirely self contained; even metal armour tends to need leather straps or pads, which require boiled leather, which can only be made by a Forester. As my Hunter alt is a Woodsman, a vocation including Forester, Woodworker and Farmer, I can send animal hides over (the hides just drop, they don't require a skinning profession), boil them up, and send them back, which is handy.

I haven't researched LotRO crafting in great depth yet, but so far it's quite strongly reminiscent of WoW, not least in forcing you to churn out almost useless items as I blogged about a while ago. LotRO questgivers positively insist on showering you with decent items as rewards, rather removing the market for the sharpened flint sellotaped to a twig you're trying to sell as a spear. I did get about half an hour's wear out of one helmet I made from a dropped recipe before someone gave me something better, but that was about it. From what Potshot and Tobold are saying, it doesn't really sound like there's much to look forward to either, so if I was only worried about the money I should probably just sell gathered materials (again, like WoW), but there's something quite satisfying about making items (even if only to sell to vendors), so I'll probably keep churning stuff out.

Talking of crafting in WoW, I made a half-hearted attempt to boost my leatherworking up to the maximum 375 required for the few not-entire-useless craftable items, the Primalstrike Vest, Bracers and Belt (ignoring for a moment the raw materials required if I ever did make it that far). Originally I'd logged in to try and complete the week's ten arena matches to qualify for points, but there was a six minute wait for each match to start with, which dragged the whole business out from a half-hour of rapid-fire combat into an hour of queuing occasionally punctuated by random violence. Even that might have been tolerable, if it wasn't for the fact that every two or three matches we'd turn up in the arena starting area to find no opposition, and if we didn't leave of our own accord then the characters got logged out. Abandoning that farce, I popped over to the auction house to look for Primal Shadows and Fel Hide, as my leatherworking has reached the point where the only worthwhile item I can make with less than about 500g worth of raw materials are Fel Leather Boots, and they're yellow rather than orange now so don't even guarantee a skill-up. Primal Shadows are fairly reasonable, but either people have twigged Fel Hide is a desirable item or it's just not being skinned as much, as prices for that have rocketed. Course, I could go and try and grind the stuff myself, but even the most optimistic reports suggest that 12 hides in an hour of dedicated grinding is good going... so two solid hours of mindless grinding for enough hide for three pairs of boots which might or might not get me three points of leatherworking skill. Not really an appealing prospect.

Meanwhile, over in City of Heroes, I was... crafting! City of Heroes has always had the advantage that there's very little "dead" time; there was never much travel time once you hit level 14 (when you qualify for a travel power and can jump/fly/teleport/speed across city blocks faster than a speeding bullet), and the addition of extra stops to the mass transit system and teleport pads in bases has further speeded things up. The drawback was a lack of variety, it was either beat up cultists in robes, or beat up fascists in uniforms, or beat up... well, you get the idea. With the addition of the Invention system, you can also rapidly travel to... the consignment (auction) house!

Crafting in CoH is a much more egalitarian business than in WoW or LotRO. There's no professions or disciplines or vocations, and there's no grinding out 500 level 1 widgets to qualify as a deputy-sub-apprentice in order to make level 2 widgets, anyone can make anything (if they have the money and components). There's no gathering profession, all inventions are built with salvage that drops from mobs, and for the pièce de résistance, just about everything crafted/invented by the players is superior to the quest reward/drop/shop bought items previously in the game (although as "loot" is rather different in CoH it's not a world-changing improvement, but it's a nice little boost which stacks up the more player-invented enhancements you equip).

What I'd really like to see is if a CoH-type crafting system could work in a more conventional loot-based MMOG: reduce either the quantity or quality of items gained from mob drops and quest rewards (you'll still be doing quests for money and XP, so it's not a great disincentive) to push you towards using player-crafted items for preference, have easy-to-access auction house/consignment house/player shops or similar mechanisms for trading (standing around spamming/reading trade channels is dull and, for large volumes of trade, inefficient), and make crafting more widely accessible with a greater variety of crafted items, so you don't have a million armoursmiths churning out ten million identical helmets just to become slightly better armoursmiths.

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