The Road to Mordor: Five ways LotRO should be streamlined

LotRO
You would think that growth and expansion is nothing but a good thing for MMOs -- after all, those are the hallmarks of the genre. But as these games get bigger, issues emerge as the developers add new zones, features, and systems. In short, maturing MMOs gravitate toward complexity, and this can have an adverse effect on the game as a whole.

The problem is that there is eventually too much a brand-new player has to absorb and master, not to mention the hassle of rolling alts and having to navigate all of that content once more. If developers don't stay on top of the situation, then the game starts to lose overall cohesion and becomes a befuddling mess.

With three expansions and numerous updates under its belt, Lord of the Rings Online is venturing deep into this territory. I have friends who are leveling up for the first time and finding themselves overwhelmed with everything that needs doing as well as all the systems that are not clearly explained. So today I want to play backseat developer and talk about five ways that LotRO should be streamlined for the good of all players, old and new.

LotRO
Credit where credit is due

To its credit, Turbine is most likely aware of LotRO's feature creep because it seems like every update lately has included some sort of change to streamline the game. The vault system underwent numerous upgrades, Moria's quest flow was improved, Evendim and the Lone-lands were reworked, the instance finder tied together skirmishes and instances in one interface, class skills were consolidated, the +XP% pocket item allowed players to level up to the endgame faster, and so on.

These are all positive changes that have helped to smooth over the cracks that came from when new features were jammed together. I hope this focus on streamlining continues, however.

Suggestion #1: Streamline virtues

While at this point many of us might be so used to the virtue system that we don't give it a second thought, I ask you to consider just how confusing and non-intuitive it is, especially from the perspective of a newcomer. Virtues are meant to be the path to statistically customize your character, yet the game doesn't really do much to inform players how it works or how to go about getting new ones. The sheer number of virtues can be confusing (as are the stats that go with them), and considering the work that it takes to get 14 of your chosen virtues, I think this all needs to be a whole lot more user-friendly.

First of all, the deed log should reveal all of the available deeds for a zone instead of hiding them until discovered. I know some vets might fight this, saying that it goes against the fun of discovery, but when deeds are so integral to the virtue system, we absolutely need to be able to see them all without having to constantly resort to tabbing out of the game to look on the Lorebook or wiki ("having to consult an outside source for info" is a sign that a system needs reworking, in my opinion). The deed log should also allow us to filter and search by virtues. Imagine how much nicer it would be if you could just see in the game where all of the Zeal virtues were and your progress with them with a single click!

LotRO
Suggestion #2: Streamline stats

Simply put, there are too many stats in this game, and just about none of them is easy to deduce based on name alone. Fate? Will? Morale? OOCMR vs. ICMR? Imagine you are coming to the game for the first time: You are not going to understand what any of those means, nor are you going to recall them even after mousing over all of them. There's just too much going on here.

Again, to Turbine's credit, the studio has been working on this. We saw a stat overhauls this past year, not to mention the death of the much-hated radiance. It is progress, I just hope there is more. LotRO does not need to be Diablo III-simple with its stats, but it should be a lot easier to understand for all.

Suggestion #3: Streamline legendary trait acquisition

Let me ask you a question that any first-time player will ask: How do I get my legendary traits? If your answer is going to take five minutes and have a few footnotes, then I posit that this was stupidly complex when it was put in the game at launch and is hopelessly outdated now.

The six legendary traits that each character can acquire are gained through a host of different -- and never clearly explained in-game -- paths. Three ask that you talk to your class trainer, purchase incomplete books, then go grind certain mobs for a long time until you get the missing pages. One is granted following a lengthy class quest chain. One comes from grinding reputation with the Iron Garrison Guards in Moria. One comes from Volume II of the epic storyline. And one comes from dungeon-diving in Moria (I think).

This is all just a mess that begs to be cleaned up. I am not saying that the game should just allow you to buy legendary traits from the trainer, but the methods of acquisition are so scattered and sometimes far too obtuse that it all needs to be rethought.

LotRO
Suggestion #4: Streamline skirmish customization

This is not as big as the other items on this list, but I still feel it needs saying. As it stands, training and customizing your skirmish soldier is a little too unwieldy. You have one NPC that sells you the skills, another NPC that sells you cosmetic options, and a third NPC that gives you access to your skirmish soldier UI so that you can trait everything.

Why three? Why can't this all be boiled down to one easy-to-understand-and-use interface? LotRO needs to tidy up its room, in my opinion.

Suggestion #5: Streamline legendary items

Sigh.

Do I even need to say it? Am I just harping on it at this point? I probably am, but there is no way I could write this article without saying the following: Legendary items need a massive overhaul. And they need to be streamlined so dang bad.

I know -- I know -- the LI system has its proponents. Some people love the complexity and have appreciated the changes that Turbine's made over the past year or so. But those people are not me. I love the idea of legendary items, but it's become a bloated tax code of a mess that's just not fun to interact with in the least. LIs should be fun, right? They should be a joy to obtain and level, not an annoying, neverending task that requires you to grind six ways from Sunday to make a halfway decent weapon or item.

Turbine's taken a few shots at improving LIs, from allowing you to yank out legacies you desire to the recent addition of Star-lit crystals, but none of it has really taken LIs to where it should be.

It pains me to say this, but I actually admire Blizzard for looking at World of Warcraft's talent trees after years and several iterations of trying to make them work, admitting that it just wasn't as fun or interesting as it could be, and then scrapping it to start all over again in the upcoming expansion. That's not a morale-boosting move to make, but it's necessary when a game encounters feature bloat and some of the systems that developers were married to are ultimately failing to live up to their potential.

So keep the concept of legendary items. Keep the IXP as a way to level them up. Scrap the rest and start over. Create a UI that doesn't make my eyes cross after a minute or two of examining. Admit that relic tiers and legacy tiers and all that other stuff are just grind and complexity for its own sake and it is not fun. Make something fun, even if it has to be simpler. Make it clear and easy for anyone to understand, from the first-year newbie to the fifth-year veteran. Do that, and you could salvage what is currently an albatross hanging from the neck of this game.

Conclusion

Streamlining is a lot of extra work that is not often praised or desired as strongly as new content and features, but it is so incredibly important to the longevity of any MMO. I hope that LotRO continues to pursue this -- for the game's sake.

When not enjoying second breakfast and a pint of ale, Justin "Syp" Olivetti jaws about hobbits in his Lord of the Rings Online column, The Road to Mordor. You can contact him via email at justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.
This article was originally published on Massively.