Place and Space

Something The Lord of the Rings Online™: Shadows of Angmar™ has that City of Heroes lacks is a sense of distance. There are a few huge zones in CoX, so you dread going all the way across Independence Port, Nerva, or a Shadow Shard zone, but for the most part movement is very fast. Two monorail lines (or one villainous ferry) visit almost all the zones. You have teleporters in your base and at least three extradimensional waystations that serve as mini-monorails. Once you are in the zone, you move quickly, leaping tall building in a single bound or running faster than speeding locomotive.

In The Lord of the Rings Online™: Shadows of Angmar™, you walk. On foot, you cross a zone in 5-10 minutes, assuming you can run in a mostly straight line. Hunters run a bit faster, and you can get a horse at higher levels. The rental horses are pretty quick, and there are a few teleport abilities (again, go Hunters).

To me, moving two zones over feels like a huge project. Maybe I have been lulled by convenience, starting with Asheron’s Call’s portals and ingrained by years of CoX, but I do not want to spend 10 minutes traveling before the adventure begins. If this is a fellowship, finding members and bringing them together is potentially a half-hour or longer project. Even in-zone, fifteen minutes is not unusual.

For creating a sense of place, this works well. Only Breeland separates the Lone Lands from the North Downs, but they feel very far apart. If I need to get from Ost Guruth to Esteldin (two cities of comparable level), I am running through three zones. If I throw silver at the problem via ponies, I am still staring at the screen waiting to play for a fair while. Those people are way over there.

When some guy gives me a quest chain that takes me repeatedly across the Weather Hills, north of Bree, and to Ost Guruth, I am not completing this in one setting, even if the quests are gray. I am going to need two fellowships (more search time), because the quest of “travel for 20-30 minutes” comes between the first big enemy and the instance. It may not look like that huge travel quest is there, but you go from Bleakright (over the waterfall, if you please), back to Candaith’s camp, up to the Weathertop, back to Candaith’s camp, to Bree and/or Ost Guruth (I think both are required), then back to the camp again to start that instance. If that doesn’t sound bad enough, Weathertop is a steep mountain that you ascend via a weaving path that curls to the summit, and there are many raven scouts to pester you along the way.

That’s one example. While you are at Ost Guruth, they might mention their lack of oatmeal, which is obvious a cause for one of the heroes of the realm. Stop by the inn at the other side of the zone, get sent to the lower-level part of Evendim that borders The Shire, about 2.5 zones over. That is some serious globalization for oatmeal.

I don’t know how big Eriador is, but even the individual zones feel huge. And Eriador is not done. And Eriador is only one chunk of Middle Earth. If you try the game, hit M and keep right-clicking. That is how much of the world is left to flesh out. They have enough space to keep adding new zones for a few decades. Do we get giant eagles to fly between regions? One does not simply walk into Mordor.

In part, I find this good. I am working here now. Moving along is moving on. It sometimes feels restrictive. When quests send me long distances, it just feels annoying, especially when the path does not have horses (or they are arbitrarily expensive: 5sp to ride across town, 15sp for a half-zone, just put in less money rather than the goldsink).

I see players unwilling to run the distances who look for assistance (teleports) in global channels for longer than it would probably take for them to run it. Or maybe that is through hostile territory.

And then I remember that I have a Hunter. Hunters are the real wizards, able to teleport themselves (and groups) across the map. I can reach any major city in seconds, with most worthwhile places a short ride away. It is like a tax on every class but mine.

: Zubon

14 thoughts on “Place and Space”

  1. I’m not sure if you properly remember Asheron’s Call, but even once you’d plotted out your map with AC Explorer, and knew where you were going and which portals you were taking, it could still take thirty minutes to cover a significant distance.

  2. Hunters sound a lot like druids in the beginning of the original Everquest. The problem with travel is that the first time you trek across a huge world, you’re exploring, seeing the sites, enjoying a novel experience. The fiftieth time you do it you’re commuting to work and counting down the days until you retire. It’s when a class ability passes from “time saving novelty” to “tedium removing privilege” that the grouching really begins.

    Although a long, boring slog of a walk may be more true to the source material for LotR than just about anywhere else.

  3. You have to keep in mind, though, that the journey itself was a huge aspect of the story, both in the books and the movies. I suspect the game developers were attempting to recreate that for gamers, but didn’t take into account the fact that, eventually, the novelty will wear off, and you really just want to get where you’re going ASAP.

    It does remind me, however, of a video a friend linked to me recently:
    How It Should Have Ended – Lord of the Rings. The commentary at the end of the clip is particularly amusing (and most pertinent to the topic currently under discussion).

  4. It gets better at high levels and in groups, but it is painful at low levels.
    After playing LOTRO and going back to WoW, I could not believe how much worse WoW is. At least in LOTRO there are many insta-travel ponies. But in WoW, there’s only a couple boats/zeps, and you have to stand around waiting. It drives me crazy. The travel times are one of the big annoyances. Yesterday it took me 30 minutes to meet up with my friends.

    If you have a high level hunter, you basically can insta-port to anywhere. Much better than a Mage in WoW who can only go to a few locations. In my kin we’d even park low level hunter alts at the campfire outside of Carn Dum so that he could port to town, pick us up, then port back to Carn Dum. Then that person would go back to their main and our captain would summon them.

    Of course, none of them can beat CoX, where you can get your fast skills early. (I didn’t pick up any special speed but just improved my regular speed and jump and even that was really great to get around).

  5. Originally AC did not have portals, they were added at a much later stage.

    Odd point about LoTRO though, as I think the beauty of the landscape adds a lot to that game, at least on max settings. I could maybe see how all the travel could be annoying if you power game it, but at my casual pace, I hardly ever notice it. I’ve also found that with just a bit of planning, you can usually get a quest or deed done while traveling from point A to point B for a certain quest.

    That said, Candaith does enjoy sending you on long walks…

  6. There were more portals added later, but we were using the Web Maze back in early 2000, I’m sure. We just didn’t go to those places that were a half-hour run very often. It is not as though you had to get to the center of the Obsidian Plains very often.

    Years later, this might have changed. But by level 60, pretty much everyone had Item Magic, and there were portal mules all over when I left AC. Someone had a portal within 10-15 minutes of even the most absurd place, and you could get anywhere in the civilized area in a portal jump or two. Arwic ftw!

  7. I ran off to AO shortly after Arwic was destroyed, so I missed the portal mules.

  8. I’m conflicted here. I mean, I used to play CoH, and rankled at spending ages crossing huge zones, but on the other hand this is Lord of the Rings here. Essentially, the books are mostly one gigantic intra-quest hike. The Barrow Wights, Tom Bombadil, meeting the Ents, chasing the Orcs, meeting Faramir, Moria, probably other stuff I’m not remembering, all this stuff is something that happened while on the way to somewhere else. It took Frodo three books to walk to Mount Doom. Should players be able to get there in minutes?

  9. I play both. And I like ’em both how they are.

    LOTRO has the more realistic seamless world (except for zoning load times with the paid horse rides), and that generally aids immersion. It’s good for being -in- the world. LOTRO also has a few off-the-beaten path spots that reward exploration in the map-explorer sense.

    Game-wise, it really keeps inter-zone visits to a minimum via walking or riding. Even an instant hearth back to the home city or your house or the milestone has to be considered, since you won’t be getting back to where you were any time soon. And I’ll admit that my impatience has burned up quite a few silver with the horse rides with instant zoning. Even after having my own horse, it gets tedious.
    The travel design of LOTRO just forces a slower pace.

    Travel in CoX has the superhero flavor – flying, superjumping, superspeeding, etc. Immersive, and yet conveniently fast too. Best of both worlds.

    (Mission zoning into instances is another kettle of fish altogether. Maybe it ruins immersion for some. I’ve always seen my MMOs as games, so I don’t personally mind load screens – as long as they load fast.)

    Guild Wars is insta-convenience. Map and jump wherever. You have to have gone there once before, but after that, you can revisit it whenever. There’s even a desired service in game to run new characters to places quickly. Great for game, not so good for a sense of world.

    Give and take.

    Wonder what that tells us about our sense of an immersive/realistic world – that it has to take a long time to get anywhere or do anything?

  10. I take it you’ve never played EVE Online? Travel time in hours stretches into double-digits for trips across the galaxy. This takes into account detours around hostile systems, but with factional warfare, even large swathes of empire space will become dangerous to participating players.

  11. I have a few months of EVE to my name. I just never had a reason to travel across the galaxy. Is it something you do often? The only reason I ever had to spend lots of travel time was trade runs in my Iteron V.

  12. I absolutely agree with you Zubon.

    I equate unnecessary travel time with grinding; the first time you fight a mob, or even if you have to wade through dozens to achieve a special goal, great. But when you monotonously grind for xp, I’d rather be watching telly. And the same applies for travelling the same route for the 50th time. It’s one reason I switched off both WoW and LotRO.

    As for the point that LotR is all about travel – the books don’t force you to read about the countryside for 30 mins before you get 30 mins of action (well, not very often, and if it does it’s because it’s written in a style that is anachronistic these days).

    I made a similar point on the AoC beta forums about travel. When, in Howard’s ribald tales, do you hear of Conan plodding along over the same well worn track a dozen times before he confronts the vicious picts or some inhuman ape beast?

    So, I say give players mounts or travel powers early. SWG ended up doing that. CoX gave players travel powers *even earlier* with temp powers from mayhem/safeguard. And it only made things better.

    I’m all for exploring, but I have deep spiritual objections to grinding, of any kind.

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