Our LotRO group has been a little hit and miss in the last few weeks because of a variety of RL scheduling challenges, but we managed to get our two regular sessions in this week. Our little group of 4 hardy adventurers are only just now hitting the middle to upper 20s having committed ourselves to “staying with the group.” Our group play budget generally consists of about a 2 hour session midweek and a slightly longer session Saturday nights if we can all stay awake long enough.
As we’ve progressed through the low 20s, “progress” seemed to be made easily enough through the main sequence of quests leading us to and through new content. We’d been questing around the Foresaken Inn in the Lone Lands and Ost Guruth until we had played most of those quests out. After a couple of failed attempts on a few of the fellowship quests (at or below level, more on that in a minute), we decided to head off to Trestlebridge in the North Downs where there are a host of quests for the low to mid 20s.
Travel Ain’t Cheap
As we’ve crossed into the upper 20s however, a couple of things are occurring thats starting to suck the oxygen out of the room a bit. Travel in LotRO is far from instantaneous and definitely not cheap (thanks Brasse), so judicious selection of your “Map Home” point and choice of primary area of activity in which to reside temporarily is actually something you want to consider. Mapping back to Bree and hiring a horse to take you back to your questing area too often can take a bite of your hard earned silver and time.
If you’re trying to “make progress” in the mythical 2-hour casual gamer block of time, no more than about 15 minutes of travel should be involved. If someone needs to hit a trainer or deposit items into the one and only bank in Bree, it shouldn’t suck 25% of the playtime budget. Likewise, the tried and true method of mailing items to an alt for auction or storage so you can keep your troops in the field longer is not particularly viable. For items worth keeping, postage to an alt can take quite a bite (20% of vendor value for most items).
As we’ve run through most of the solo or small group quests, we’re increasingly being left with the fellowship quests. A fellowship in LotRO can be up to six members. We have a regular foursome of experienced but casual MMOers and have pretty much cast our lot as getting through the game as a foursome. Early on, the number of members in a group didn’t seem to matter too much, but time and time again, we’ve had a fair amount of difficulty with fellowships even a few levels below our average level.
In another incarnation, this group fell into a similar problem when our WoW fifth (and our tank no less) ended up switching jobs and timezones. The group content and instanced group content in WoW is really designed to be doable best by a full reasonably balanced at-level group. And, the rewards, while ok for an over-levelled group, are much better at-level.
While a decent foursome in WoW can generally do pretty well against full group content, in LotRO, these fellowship quests really seem designed to swarm a full fellowship. Having only two-thirds of a full fellowship seems to make a very big difference. Without an instant heal, a way to drop aggro or to shield oneself from being pummelled and interrupted while casting, our minstrel often ends up in dire straits and the modest healing that our captain can provide just isn’t a substitute and there doesn’t seem to be enough crowd control without a lore master or burglar.
Now, ordinarily these kind of challenges can be overcome to some extent by application of sheer pigheadedness. Simply dash oneself against the rocks again and again, die respawn and give it another go as quickly as possible before respawns. Most encounters you can chisel away at even if you can’t succeed at the boss gaining valuable experience, gear and intel for another later attempt.
In LotRO, this approach is particularly unforgiving due to the excessive repair costs. After running about Nan Wathren in pursuit of a few fellowship quests which were at-level for us, repair costs were around 150 silver resulting from a two and a half hour outing and probably an average of two “defeats.” Net net, we probably broke even by the time we auction a few of the drops we got, but I for one took a slight step backward in the immediate cash-in-pocket department after the evening.
Likewise, with the quest heavy focus in LotRO, the experience derived from the individual mobs was trivial rendering the undertaking of these fellowship quests somewhat dubious. Even “waiting a few levels” hasn’t proven particularly rewarding. Quest rewards are minimized and experience rewards are completely trivialized as evidenced by our foray into the Great Barrows.
Getting Back to the Fun
None of these frustrations is particularly game-breaking, but taken together they are starting to chafe a bit. Probably a bit later than others who have powered through by now. A defeat in an instance run in WoW nearly always yielded a significant amount of experience, and often a few usable items and a modest amount of cash, so that the feeling of “progress” or reward was achievable in the mythical 2-hour casual gamer block of time. The cost of defeat in LotRO often means a step backward because of the direct costs of repairs but also because additional time will need to be played completing other quests to level up to the point where a fellowship quest may be doable for a smaller group (with the result of no significant gain in experience and/or diminished utility of the quest reward) at which point the fellowship quest reward may be trivialized.
Most of these issues seem to be “dial turning” issues, IMHO. Tweaking travel and repair costs would certainly take some of the bite out of it as would the quest v. kill XP issue. This is a place where small changes can have a dramatic impact on gameplay.
The design of group encounters though is a tougher nut to crack. I would love to see an MMO that could scale instanced encounters (within a range) to the size and/or makeup of a group. It could be as simple as scaling the number of hit points the mobs in an encounter had relative to the number of party members…
We’re still hoping that Turbine can solve some of these game balance issues, but like Frodo, I’m starting to feel the increased weight of the game hanging around my neck the further we get from Bag End.