[LOTRO] A Tale of Re-Entry

I deftly evaded the siren song of the Dark Side (for now, even with Grandma Christmas Cash burning a hole in my pocket), and decided to reinstall Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO). Me and the Tolkien MMO go pretty far back, and except for Guild Wars, it ranks as the number one MMO for time played in my book. It is number one if you don’t think Guild Wars is a “true” MMO. Anyway, I have been taking a long sabbatical from the game since the Mirkwood expansion and the Free-2-Play (F2P) switch. It was not the game’s fault by any means. The Mirkwood expansion was excellent, and as I was a lifetime subscriber to LOTRO anyway, the switch really didn’t affect me. I just seemed to have wandered off somewhere near the beginning of Volume 3, Book 2 as the Grey Company headed south.

My return was horrible to be frank. When I logged back in I was beset on all sides by system mailings, announcements of new achievements I had somehow started, resets to all my legendary weapons, and a new trait / stat regime. It was bad enough that I was in the middle of a book, with tons of other quests already started, in the beginning of a region I didn’t remember while staring at a virtual cockpit of skills. Like a strange, albino gangle creature emerging into sunlight, I just blindly stumbled around for awhile until I found something to kill. It took me way too long to kill the enemy (as I, in the madness of things, had forgotten to up my legendary weapon’s DPS because it had been reset), and frustrated I logged off.

All I wanted was to start playing. Was that so much to ask? I didn’t want to think about all the chores I had to do. I would get to that. There was no easing back in to things. It was a sheer cliff wall of activation energy facing me.

Thankfully my current guild leader, a close friend in real life, offered to “fix” all my traits, legendary items, etc. so that I could get to bashing things quick. He was more than familiar with the captain class, and he offered me a drop or two of advice. Then it was done. It felt like he had swept away all the bad energy and gotten me quickly back into playing. It was nice. I had a great time in northern Enedwaith after that. I am looking forward to the many adventures to come.

This problem of getting fun-destroying information overload when finally returning to a game seems endemic to MMOs. With a subscription-based MMO at least the player has the monetary resolve of pushing back through the learning curve (with new twists) since the fee has already been paid. The same goes for expansions of any MMO and the energy that surrounds them. In a straight-up flat-fee or F2P MMO there is less motivational energy coming from the wallet. The motivation comes from community and fun. Given that I had been long-time-gone from the community, all to be gained at the moment of re-entry was fun. I had no fun until glorious guild leader “fixed” the wrongs.

I would love to have access to some heuristics and see what the statistics are on re-entry burnout. I know I have experienced re-entry burnout plenty, but usually it is because I become awash in all the negative things that made me leave in the first place. LOTRO and Rift both had this burnout, and Rift even had the wallet energy going for it. Feeling the grind upon re-entry speaks pretty bad for the MMO. It takes longer for those wounds to heal. This is honestly the first time I nearly burned out from information overflow destroying fun, and it makes me wonder how common it is. Perhaps most of the developers bank on returns occurring around moments they control, and I was merely a statistical flier.

The crux of this is the standing question how much time is expected to be used doing non-fun things upon re-entry in order to do fun things. Is it a give in for our MMO genre that work is simply part of how things go. Players “work” to get “fun” and this is no different. Thoughts and condolences are welcome.

–Ravious

23 thoughts on “[LOTRO] A Tale of Re-Entry”

  1. I think you’ll really enjoy Isengard once you get to that, I thought they did a super job on the questing/ epic book with that.

    1. I am looking forward to it. My guild seems to be having fun with the current cluster, and I have 9k TP somehow…. so that’s cool. Won’t have to pay for the xpac.

  2. I feel the same way about STO right now. After I hit cap and ran a few STFs, I decided to take a break. I want to return to do the winter stuff, but when I log back in, all my skills have been reset, all the weapons have changed, etc. Its so much of a hurdle that I have to take it in steps. The problem there is that there are so many other good games to play, where that one, as you aptly put it, has an “activation energy” associated with it. I will get back into it… I will just have to be really in the mood to get over that grind.

  3. I think the biggest change to deeds you may have encountered are the Moria quests ones, they’ve been subdivided into individual areas now, that would probably account for most of the spam. Skirmish tokens are condolidated into marks, medallions and seals and that would be another notification. Off the top of head those are the biggest general changes, besides class/stat ones.

    The overload can be a bit much sometimes, I suppose the only real strategy for dealing with it is take a deep breath and accept that it’ll be a few play sessions before getting back on top of things.

  4. And this is where “face-rolling” gameplay has an advantage: you really -don’t- have to remember how to play, because it doesn’t matter; you’ll still beat on-level solo content.

    Rift has a big advantage here because you can condense all your key skills to between one and four macros. Barring major changes to a class that reset the soul trees, you can be back killing as soon as you remember that “4” is your spam macro, “2” and “3” are your offensive and defensive finishers, and “1” is your interrupt. Not saying that Rift can’t be complex, just that you can reduce the complexity as much as you like and still be reasonably effective.

    Conversely, the more complex MMOs like EQ2 and LOTRO, can have huge hurdles to re-entry. Dozens of skills, many of which do almost the same thing; “legendary” items, “alternate” advancement, and other “deep” systems (the details of which fade readily from the mind) all provide a significant relearning curve.

    From that point of view, the current trend toward “dumbing down” systems makes sense. The trick is to do it in such a way that those who -want- complexity can still find it if they try. And that’s a difficult task….

  5. Sometimes you see a list of changes and are excited about exploring all these new things. Sometimes you see a list of changes and are pre-emptively too tired to re-learn the entire game.

  6. … inventory overload …
    (with Guildwars. I only log in these days to get hats, and I’m hard-pressed to find enough free space for all the additional drops.)

  7. I had that same fireworks display of updates when I tried to go back to STO after a 9 month hiatus. It was too much, stuff appeared and then disappeared before I could finish reading, changes and updates and things I needed to attend to were popping up all over. I spent an hour or so trying to figure out what changed then logged off. I have not returned since.

    This sort of thing is why when I return to a game I have not played for a while, the first thing I tend to do is roll a new character so I can wade in slowly. Sometimes a bit of that is enough to get me into the swing of things so I can return to my past characters. But not all the time.

  8. Mirkwood was a major combat system overhaul, Isengard was a complete overhaul of the stats, virtues, attributes and traits. Mechanically you were picking up a brand new game with a character already near the level cap, which can be a rough way to learn a game.

    I took a few month break right before Isengard, and have twice failed on re-entry. Northern Enedwaith feels like a random kill 10 pigs quest generator exploded. Someone please someone explain to me what is epic about an epic storyline quest that tells me to do all the side quests in town before moving on to the next town. Its the worst feeling update with mostly dull quests that have no personality. The one quest chain starting with a kids toy leading to a confrontation with an insane wizard is the best one I have found so far. Everything else is “go kill 10 wolves and come back so I can give you another kill wolves quest.” Horrible lack of fun quest lines compared to most of the other Lotro regions.

    1. I don’t think it was ever meant to be compulsory to clear out all the quests in an area if you wanted to move on. Just there genuinely is an issue with story based play that players feel that the main storyline seems so urgent that they’re reluctant to break off and do side quests.

      I quite liked the ‘sit back and smell the flowers’ pace. LOTRO is a slower paced game anyway, it was quite restful.

  9. @dndhatcher: LOL. Yeah, I felt the same way about RIsengard. Lucky me, I actually hadn’t purchased the expansion. So the -only- thing I had to do in Dunland was the “epic” quest chain. And, quite literally, half the quests in the chain consisted of “Oh, look! A =village=! Hey, why don’t you help these poor saps out (until you’re satisfied that you’ve done everything you can for them) and then meet me/some other Ranger/someone else entirely at the next Point of Interest?”

    Since I don’t own the expansion, “until you’re satisfied that you’ve done everything you can for them” translated directly into “done!” There’s nothing quite as refreshing as entering a new area, talking to the people, and =refusing= their quests :^)

  10. I have exactly the same experience every time I log into LotRO. The vast number of tiny, tiny icons on my hotbars, in my bags and in the bank just drive me to distraction. I think this is something proper to LotRO specifically, rather than a generic problem with the MMO form. I really don’t have a quarter of the problems coming back to any other MMO after a long lay-off.

    If I was really serious about returning to LotRO I’d actually prefer to play one of my low-level characters or even start over with a completely new character and relearn everything from scratch than try to get up and running on my most established existing character.

    1. That is actually how and sometimes why I find myself returning to LotRO. Thoughts like, “I wonder how Warden really plays” or “My Runekeeper was fun, but I never got to far with him, maybe I should play him some more” and then before I know it, I’ve pulled back in my duo-ing partner and we are back on our mains and everything makes sense. Having that simple re-introduction through a new or low level character makes the mental cost of re-entry low reminding me of all of the awesome bits of that game. Then I can spend a bit of time in the forums while I’m enjoying this new(ish) character to reacquaint myself with the changes to the Captain class (my main).

  11. I took a short break of about 3 months, from LotRO (which wasn’t yet f2p) and DDO (which was) to try out some of the new Korean f2p games at one point.. I went back and discovered that a number of changes had happened to both games and just couldn’t be bothered to go back.. I was nowhere near either game’s cap, but it was just too much to reabsorb and enjoy.
    Contrarily, I took a 2 year plus break from City of Heroes (where I had multiple level capped alts) which saw some of the biggest changes to the game (Praetoria, alignment switching, the incarnate content, new power sets, etc) and dropped back in with nary an issue (Steam sale for the expansion costing less than a 1 month sub, best way to justify the cost to myself), and six months later I’ve paid for a 7 month chunk of a f2p game, and find myself logging a few hours playing almost every night.
    The big difference was even though CoX made big sweeping changes (most notably converting one of the “optional” power pools into a set of powers every character gets automatically at level 2) they didn’t reset your character powers and gear, but left it for you to take care of when you were ready, so that the character you knew is the character you have. (note: this is not entirely accurate for returning players who are trying the now f2p format as a non-subscriber, you will be locked out of some things depending on how long you played before, and locked out of any incarnate content you may have had.)

  12. @bhagpuss: LOTRO is probably the worst offender in this regard, yes. No macros, multiple skills that do almost exactly the same thing with minor differences. The game could do with a strong round of skill consolidation for most classes.

    But EQ2 and AoC also have this to a certain extent. Picking up my level 55 Ranger in EQ2 is always a steep re-learning curve. And I didn’t even bother trying with my level 80 Bear Shaman in AoC: most of the icons on his hotbar no longer did what they used to do, even if I could remember what they used to do ;^)

    Even Rift can present this issue if you’re a “purist” who refuses to use macros or if your main is a Mage class (most of which can’t really use macros due to the lack of cooldowns on their spells). But LOTRO is definitely the worst. I think, in part, it’s due to the incredibly weak icons in the game. Quite frankly, most of them look the same, especially if you’re playing at 2560 x 1600….

  13. Like Ravious, I got a lifetime sub to LotRO when it came out because I just can’t stand monthly fees. I leveled a Hunter to 35 and some others into the 20’s but I eventually gave it up because I couldn’t stand the kill-tagging + deed grind frustration. The straw that broke it for me was trying to kill about 8 boars in the Lone Lands for some quest with about three other people who refused to fellowship for it.
    However, after returning to my beloved Guild Wars and getting GWAMM (which, although it took over a thousand hours didn’t feel half as grindy as trying to kill 240 wargs for a +3 to Might feels) and also getting 50/50 in my HoM, I went back to LotRO for something to do.
    I bought the Warden and started anew. And you what? It’s been fun. The Warden is a great solo class. In combat, you basically have four skills to use and it’s the combinations of those skills that gets you the differences. I’m up to level 53, but I didn’t have any re-entry shock because of the fresh start. Of course, I’ll be gone in a flash as soon as GW2 comes out. :). For now, not too shabby.

  14. I also have a lifetime account with LotRO and stopped actively playing at the same time. After Mirkwood and before FtP. I launch the game to check out the seasonal play every so often. However every time I log into my main character I see the weapon legacy system change and decide I would have to go learn too much about what mistakes not to make to want to play. I have done a few hours of questing in low level revamped areas just to check out the changes but that is all. Does not matter how bad your weapon is if takes only 2 swings max.

  15. Believe me, I’m sympathetic to this. I’m getting back into EQ2 a bit because I’m trying out the dungeon maker tools for work. Trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing with my level 68 Necromancer (which got to 70 mostly by accident running a few player-created dungeons) has been quite a bit of effort.

    But, now putting on my dev hat, what’s the solution here? Not changing the game is obviously not a serious option. EQ2’s changes actually tried to simplify the game, but it’s the added bits that have been tripping me up. If you don’t flood updates to the player, they’ll miss any icon or button you “hide” game updates behind, so you’ll lose or frustrate some people that way. No matter what you do, you’ll upset someone. Perhaps the LotRO way is the least of all sins.

    1. I marginally prefer a method EQ2 has used in the past: if you make major changes to something (like AA), give players a big popup and give them a free respec for that aspect of the game. If your changes are so drastic that you =have= to refund points (some branches of the tree were consolidated or simply ceased to exist), make an attempt to refund as few points as possible and, once again, provide a free respec.

      One of the most annoying things about LOTRO is logging in and seeing that your LI points have been refunded =again=. That means you have to rebuild between one and eight “legendary” items from scratch. If you have maxed out items, that can be a very long process indeed, especially if you haven’t touched them in a while. Unfortunately, the things are pretty much useless without points being allocated, so you’re kind of hosed until you deal with it.

      A key point of player psychology is, when they login or resub, they want to =play=. Logic dictates that you make this as easy as possible for them. That means things like a small initial download and streaming the rest of the data as they play. It means giving them free time rather than requiring a credit card up front. And it means removing as many gameplay roadblocks as possible.

      A perfect example of what not to do was the way EQ2 handled converting existing accounts to F2P. For someone who used to be a subscriber returning to the game, you’re faced with possibly multiple locked characters (if you have more alts than character slots under the new model), equipment that you were wearing when you logged out dumped into your packs (because you haven’t unlocked rare/fabled/whatever item usage), and entire packs marked in red (because you have more packs than the new model allows for your account level). Yes, they saw the light and at least grandfathered in class/race combinations that you hadn’t bought in the store, but there are still a =lot= of barriers making a return to the game extremely inconvenient.

      Personally, I found it so inconvenient that I simply logged out and uninstalled. Extreme? Maybe. But when I have so many other choices out there, why would I want to suffer through the hassle in order to return to a game that I left for a reason?

  16. This actually is one of the things I’m enjoying about Guild Wars… the smaller “button bar” means I can mouse over the abilities, zone in somewhere, and start hitting things. I go into EQ2 and I’m instantly confronted with four full bars of icons, and I am overwhelmed until I get my feet underneath me. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any curve in GW, of course. Come back after six months and try to put together a decent build to run a heroic mission and you’ll be scratching your head. But to actually come in and play the game is quite easy.

    I think from a design standpoint, “simple” is often underrated.

  17. I’m a bit disappointed with Turbine and lotro. I started the game over a year ago and have three lvl 75’s with much of the end-game content under my belt. My disappointment stems from the poor quality control from Turbine. I’m a software developer and I understand that defects are impossible to squash 100% — but Update 5 is horrible. Nothing like beating your head against a difficult 3-man instance for an hour and then losing out on the deed due to some bug. Worse, a boss bugs out half way thru and forces a restart.

    There is disparity in the class revisions as well. Minstrel for example was complete revamped when RoI was released and I have to say it’s incredible — simply amazing to play. But you look at Rune Keeper and it’s completely borked. Two different software designers, two completely different results. I rarely play my RK, it’s so disappointing now.

    I don’t play the PvE content much anymore — only when my buds are online. Now I spend most time messing around with the Monster classes which is honestly bit refreshing. I have no intention to grind my way to Rank 9 or higher (grind is an understatement). However Rank 6 is achievable and makes for a moderately survivable creep.

    I’m mostly passing time until GW2 is out.

  18. With my main in LOTRO being a warden, returning is a bit like having to learn how to type from scratch again… In any case am quite burned out on LOTRO from crafting fatigue and acute altitis. So I’ll probably not get to see some of the new stuff, which is a pity.

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