A Determined Rant

The goggles ... they do nothing.1

It’s not that I intend to pick on LotRO. It’s a fine game. The pinnacle of mediocracy (I mean that in a good way, honest). But as I play, I sure can’t help but think, “Wouldn’t that be better if … ”

Today’s rant is on the topic of Virtues. For those not aware, Virtues are character trait bonuses that can be earned by completing certain tasks. Some of the tasks reward exploration. Some are metatasks, finished by completing a certain number of quests in an area. Many of the tasks are a rather straight-forward “Kill X of Y”. X tends to be a very large number. A more detailed description can be found here.

Yeah, I know … people have complained ad nauseum on this topic. But there’s a point, honest!

Having hit max level, I’ve been working to improve my toon’s numeracy … specifically, working on the Virtue of Determination, which, strangely, gives a boost to Agility (a key value for a Hunter).

Appropriately, Determination is earned by having the tenacity to kill extremely large numbers of mobs (aaahhh, the boredom).

If the LotRO Wiki is to be believed (and I think some of these numbers are off), the kills required to earn +8 Determination include:

  • 90 Slugs (yes, slugs)
  • 90 Wolves
  • 90 Barghest
  • 270 Wargs
  • 360 Crawlers (crab-like beasties)
  • 360 Snow Beasts
  • 350 Wargs
  • 360 Salamaders

That’s a whole crap-load of mobs.

So far I’ve done the Wargs and the Wolves. I’m working on the Fire Salamanders (as pictured above … update, just completed! yay me!). There isn’t really any challenge in it. I’m well beyond the suggested level range for the zones these things are in.

This would have been more fun when I was originally levelling in these areas. But I didn’t. I’m definitely not alone in having bypassed traits first time through. There are always several other L50’s all grinding in each area for the same Virtue. (As a side note, racing between spawn sites and tagging mobs before others can is at least a little amusing.)

If I had to guess at the reason why I skipped these first time through, I’d say it was because Virtues weren’t front and center while levelling. I managed to L50 just fine without the Virtues. Virtues weren’t in my quest tracker (there’s a separate book of deeds). It was far more fun to rip through the quest lines than deviate to kill slugs.

And so, we’re left with a system of Virtues that feels poorly integrated with the rest of the game. Players come back to it later, when there’s nothing better to do.

And thus has come one of the deadly sins of game design.

Quoth the Raph in “40 Ways to be a Better Game Designer”:

#39 […] Check against the list of key pieces required for fun: preparation for a challenge mattering, territory/environment mattering, choices in how to solve a problem, variations in the nature of the challenge, risk to loss, skill in execution, no bottom-feeding, and multiple possible success states.

Had the Raph designed this game he would have cut it immediately as encouraging Bottom Feeding! Ok, who knows what he would have done … I just felt the need to link to an authority on such matters.

So I’m bottom-feeding. Sure … sure … I’m responsible for my own actions. But shouldn’t the designers at Turbine, strive to perfect their game? They could have encouraged me to complete the task at a time appropriate to my level.

And FINALLY! We reach the point of the article. Well almost.

Recently I attended IMGDC. At lunch, I chatted with two distinguished members of the industry, whose names I shall with-hold. Both from organizations that have or are developing MMO.

I was ranting, as I’m wont to do, on how boring combat is from L39+ for Hunters in LotRO. I questioned why the folks at LotRO couldn’t have thrown in another interesting skill (as a level reward) somewhere between 39 and 50. Just to break up the monotony.

The first fellow said something along the lines of “it’s a value judgment … is it worth the effort?” Undoubtedly, adding yet another skill would cause several people weeks of work. There’s the design and implementation effort. Internal testing. Play testing. Balancing. All for what? How many players would stay and pay solely for reduced monotony for Hunters? Anyone? Bueller? Probably, it wouldn’t keep anyone significantly longer. Not worth it.

The second fellow said something along the lines of “to beat WoW, you need to innovate 100%, not just 10%”. Setting the reference to WoW aside, it certainly seems true.

But what about innovating by 10%, 20 times. How about 1% 200 times? Does that make 200%? I think it might. I think a big chunk of a game’s success is about careful attention to many small items, not some drastic sweeping game change.

LotRO does a great job of the grand scheme … but loses it on so many of the details. Sure, making Hunter post L39 less boring is small. But add to that an attention to detail in every other area of the game (like the Virtue system) and perhaps the net effect is the same as if you did it 200% better, no?

1No salamanders were harmed in the making of this image.

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