“Easy to play, hard to master”

LOTRO has been through a lot of systemic changes the last two updates. First the launch of the Helm’s Deep expansion changed all classes at a pretty fundamental level, reducing abilities, locking some to one of three talent trees and changing the weighting of the various stats. There was  a long thread on the LOTRO forums about the state of the end-game that I read some time ago; amidst the doom and gloom in the thread I found this quote:

The wisest game-developing philosophy is: ‘Easy to Play and Hard to Master’. [quote by LOTRO forum user ‘English’: source]

Very wise words, almost prophetic as Update 13 (U13) came along and enacted yet more widespread and significant changes to combat balancing. There is now a rapidly growing and fractious debate on the forums about whether the changes to mitigation (e.g. block, resistance etc) have made the earlier levels too hard for those characters not ‘twinked’, i.e. decked out in the best crafted gear and fully up to date with their deeds. It seems to me that it is an impossible task for Turbine to please all sides at this point. The free to play era saw a gradual decrease in overall difficulty and a sudden drop with Helm’s Deep. Now there are deeply divided opinions on what the average “landscape” (i.e. open world) difficulty in the game should be.

I have barely played the game since Helm’s Deep launched as when I last logged in I felt the champion class’ secondary power mechanic seemed off – not enough fervour pips being generated to match the old pace of combat. No doubt that’s my fault for not persevering with (or relearning) the new system but I have felt pretty much since Moria (and my first legendary weapon) that you have to make an effort to die in the open world. Trying to solo a warband on foot (a mounted combat group encounter) was pretty suicidal, but against other opponents on foot it wasn’t much of a challenge.

Warbands are not to be tackled on-foot!

Warbands are not to be tackled on-foot!

I compare this with recent sessions of SWTOR, where it is very easy to over pull in heroic 4 missions or even to blunder into a larger group in the open world and to die as a result. I like it when a game reminds me not to get overly confident as I level – and the fact that if I fail to keep my gear updated I could even find a mission impossible to beat.

I’ve now played a couple of sessions of LOTRO since U13 and I’ve noticed the subtle differences for my champion (his level is in the late 70s). His health is dipping a bit more than before so I now actually use the heal-over-time ability with some regularity. If I overpull accidentally then I might even need to use the big self-heal or the racial heal he has. That’s nice actually as it reminds me of how the game was back in the Moria era when soloing for a new player was actually a perilous activity!

I’m sure there are issues with the re-balancing that need working on, I need to test mounted combat some more to see if the posts about suddenly deadly mounted orcs are true. I also want to log on a ‘squishy’ either my minstrel or runekeeper to see what leveling is like in the 15-30 zones now.

A broad question behind this debate on the LOTRO forums and one that you can find in many other MMO communities is just how much of a challenge should leveling or open world content be? Should it be “faceroll to the cap”, “strive long and hard through every zone” or somewhere in-between? I tentatively think the game is much better for some challenge being reintroduced, but then I’m not a “rush to endgame” type of player so I am certainly biased in that regard.

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One Response to “Easy to play, hard to master”

  1. tsuhelm says:

    I much more thorough exploration of difficulty in LOTRO than I had attempted. GREAT STUFF!

    I think we share a similar play style and both of us enjoy the Champ at the moment indicate this.

    Whether the same can be said for other classes in the game is part of the problem and it is difficult to say without much more objective research. They also seems to be an issue at different levels (and areas where those those character level at those levels!) where imbalance sets in suddenly, I also think this problem has been exacerbated by the LI system and really hope they use this as an excuse to start to address the LI system soon.

    I will continue to enjoy my champion (lv 1-27 post U13), and will try to get my RK to Moria (lv46/7 all pre U13).

    I for one need a challenge to play and that play is in the landscape 99% of the time.

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