This is a phrase I hear a few times a day from the leader of the project I’m on. I miss gaming a lot, but what I truly miss most is what I haven’t done in maybe 5 years – testing and tuning of games. Long ago, on a planet with two moons, I used to help in the creation of material in a wildly successful MMORPG. I did a fair amount, but nowhere near the level of some folks I knew, of which I was highly jealous. It was completely unpaid, but it was wildly fun. But it was not always creation of material that I got to work on, sometimes it was fixing bugs and locking out what we called ‘exploits’. To be fair, many of these exploits were simply patching out creative ways to do things that players had through up that the game company didn’t like. As a veteran DM of many a pen and paper RPG, I expected this – players will often find the fastest way from point A to point B lies through undefined area Q.
This somewhat meandering back-story brings me to tomorrow’s patch for LoTRO, Book 8.
Book 8 has a lot of nice stuff in it, not least of all more content. LoTRO is STARVING for content right now. Let me explain just how bad it is.
I travel for business 4-5 days a week. My work computer has a graphics chip made by the FritoLay company, and thus cannot be used for gaming. I get to play Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings; basically when the kids are asleep and wife is watching her shows. The expansion was released just before Thanksgiving. As of last week, I had two characters complete every quest in the expansion, except for a handful of ones in the instances (which I have trouble doing due to the random playtimes). My characters have obtained max faction with both of the new groups in Moria, and have more money than I truly know what to do with. They both have 4 adequate to good items in the badly-needs-fixing Legendary Item system. They also have at least a half set of the current top armor in the game. If an extremely part time player like me is at this level, imagine where the average or bleeding edge player is? Perhaps like one of my kinmates, who has 4 characters completely kitted out in the top-level gear. So, all that said, LoTRO needs this content badly.
The patch will also include badly needed fixes for the new classes, which should be expected, as they are new. The RuneKeepers, the most magicy-type class LoTRO, has numerous abilities that simply do not work for example, and have waited since November for them. Every class will see changes as well, as can be expected from such a long awaited patch, and the merits of each of these changes can be endlessly debated.
One change I would like to focus on that I think deserves a bit more attention is the many revamps to instances. First off, I have been playing these games for 10 years – I know change happens. However, what is being done to these instances seems, at this point, to be somewhat unfair to the player base. Many of the creative ways that players use to kill the boss monsters in the game are being removed. Now, I, personally, could care less if we’re talking about removing a place that completely negates damage and renders the fight so simple half the group goes afk. I was shown one of these yesterday, and found it boring (the boss fight itself isn’t even that hard, why use this?). The changes made will turn 30 minute runs into multi-hour runs, and if the only incentive is to get a piece that only one person can use and then you have no reason to ever go back, it only hurts the people still working their way up.
The easy retort to this is that it should never be so easy to get crazy good gear, and I’d agree on both points. Yes, it should never be this easy to get top, end game gear, and yes, the gear is, quite often, amazing. However, three full months have passed and no changes have been made, except for a very small, exploit-plugging change to one instance very early on. Three months is a bit over 1/8th of the life of this still very young MMOPRG. Three months without stopping the flow is implying that the flow is ok. Your silence in the matter becomes your acceptance, as the project leader would say. In kinchat last night, both the people with all the items in the set and those with partial pieces were upset. Another change, the alteration of the second best armor to be used only by the character that loots it, also upsets many people. This consolidation prize armor is nearly as good as the top-level equipment, and should have never been transferable, likely as not. However, it has allowed many people to gear up alts and friends, and the mechanic exists in the game to allow you to trade your unneeded gear in for gear for someone else, and thus someone, somewhere, thought this was a good idea. If it were decided to be undesirable, a simple hot fix perma-killing the NPCs that handle this would easily cure this. I know I’ve personally done that in another game; it works.
In closing, I’d just like to point out that Moria is probably the second best expansion I’ve ever seen released, behind Kunark for Everquest. And when I talk of the quality of the expansion, I mean how much of it was complete at release. Moria was released with a mountain, or perhaps better said a well stocked mine, of things to do. Turbine’s timing for this release is pretty close to their normal timing for release, and I can’t fault that, but the presence on the board about any number of things from woodworking materials completely failing to be in game, to a legendary item system that is more like a scratch off ticket, or comments on official forums other than the Warden and Runekeepers is annoying.