Wednesday 15 December 2010

Men are only as loyal as their options.

Despite having a number of MMOs on the go at the moment, including Warhammer Online, Pirates of the Burning Sea, and World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online remains my go-to MMO.


There’s just something so compelling about the world that LotRO presents: environments in which it’s pleasant simply to exist. I’ve had to curb the time I spend on my static group character due to being in danger of rapidly out-levelling most of the rest of the group; let’s just say that daily skirmishes and rested XP are an unholy levelling alliance: a Wormtongue and Sharkey to scourge static group stability. Having maxed out crafting as far as I can without completing further crafting quests which are currently twice the level of my character, I’ve had to shelve my Guardian for the time being, but the land of Middle Earth continues to draw me in. I spent one evening chatting with kinshipmates (probably better as ‘kinmates’ but I’ve been spending a bit of time in Pirates of the Burning Sea as I mentioned above. Avast kinshipmates!) while I stood beside the fire in the Prancing Pony and played music to passing strangers, adjusting my .abc repertoire to include songs slightly more in keeping with the setting; Enya’s Caribbean Blue works quite well, Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black, not so much. The music system is just one small (oft overlooked) example of why, when it comes to immersing oneself in a fantasy world, LotRO is a world apart. Still, the urge was strong to do something ‘productive’ with one of my characters, after all, I think it was Fargo who defined the MMO player’s mantra while devising an algorithm for his Automated Online Role-Player:

* If there is a status bar, make it grow bigger
* If there is a number, make it higher
* If it moves, either get a mission from it or kill it

I needed to do something, and in LotRO, as in the books it is based upon, there’s always a road leading to somewhere new and interesting.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

“Where many paths and errands meet”; it’s almost as if Tolkien was foreshadowing the coming of LotRO and its errand-based ‘epic’ book content, where heroic warriors of the land spend most of the Third Age of Man carrying messages from one bone-idle NPC to another. When it comes to LotRO’s book content, the road really does seem to go on and on and on. And on.

There and, of bloody course, back again.


Honestly, I sometimes wonder if Turbine’s developers took some of those famous phrases a little too literally.

However, having run multiple alts through the low level content while trying to decide which one to settle upon for the static group, I found myself not wanting to play another alt through the early content yet again, so it was upon my level-capped characters that I focussed. They’re pretty complete, or as complete as a non-raiding layabout like myself is ever likely to get them, but the one thing I’ve never managed to do on any of them is… Volume 1 of the epic book content. Thus it was that I grabbed my Warden – soloing machine and small fellowship compressed into a single set of tight leather armour – and began to pick away at the chapters of the book’s storyline that I had yet to complete. I hadn’t completed very much.

Returning to the book content in this way provides a strange juxtaposition of heroism. Turbine provides a buff that allows a solo player to complete the book content at the correct level but without the support of a fellowship; it’s a simple and effective solution to a common issue, namely that it can be quite tricky to find a full group of players all on the same specific step of the book content that you’re on. So Turbine provided a buff that only applies to solo players, if you happen to have a group then you can complete the book content as it was intended, but if you can’t find a group or simply want to go it alone, you have that option. If I were ever to be forced at gunpoint to describe Turbine and their philosophy to games in one word, an unlikely proposition I grant you…

“You! Into the alley, now!”

“Okay! Okay! Don’t shoot! What do you want?! Money? Here’s my wallet! Please, point the gun somewhere else! What? What do you want from me?”

“I want you to describe, in one word only, the general design philosophy behind the games and systems of Turbine, Inc, specifically in respect to their MMO Lord of the Rings Online, but also taking into consideration works such as Asheron’s Call 2.”

“Let me have a look at that gun again.”

Where was I? So the one word I’d use would be ‘options’. It’s another of the things that I enjoy so much about LotRO, that there are so many and varied options, for anyone not doggedly determined to level a character and to hell with any other form of game-play at least. There’s the cosmetic system, the music system, chicken play, monster play, exploration (via deeds or simply because the world is just so darned elegant and worth the appreciation), skirmishes, instances, crafting, housing, titles, and more. There are so many options outside of the standard quest hub shuffle, and now with the introduction of the LotRO Store there are options as to how you go about some of those activities. Let’s not kid ourselves, the LotRO Store is ultimately there to make Turbine money, but the fact that I have the choice to spend some of my money to avoid certain aspects of the game’s grind – aspects that have always been there and have not been introduced in order to force people into the store – can only be a Good Thing. I haven’t taken that option yet, I don’t think the current options are good value for me despite getting a large chunk of free points every month for having been a lifetime subscriber, but the fact that that option is available to me actually makes the grind less of an issue. I find that to be an interesting mindset, and it’s certainly one that works counter to Turbine’s intentions, but having the option to skip the grind makes the grind more palatable. The grind has become a matter of principle not of necessity, it becomes “I grind because the other option is less appealing”, rather than “I grind because I have no other choice”. Thus Turbine keeps me interested and playing their game, and although I’m not likely to spend points on skipping content at any point, a person playing the game is better than one who has burnt out on the grind because they saw no other option, because eventually a player will spend points in the store. Why? Options. The store caters to all tastes, be it stat tomes for the power gamers, cosmetics for the more fashion conscious amongst us, as well as the aforementioned items that allow you to skip various parts of the game’s grind. Eventually most players will find something that they want that’s available to them on the store. Even then there are still further options. Don’t like the thought of being nickel-and-dimed by the store? Then you have the option to subscribe and gain a large chunk of what’s available on the store as part of your subscription charge.

I’ve sidetracked ever so slightly, so I’ll come back to the curious juxtaposition of heroism another time.

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