The Road to Mordor: My love-hate relationship with Legendary Items

Justin Olivetti
J. Olivetti|12.10.11

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The Road to Mordor: My love-hate relationship with Legendary Items
Second to perhaps radiance, Legendary Items have become one of the most controversial, most debated, and most divisive game features in Lord of the Rings Online since their implementation in Mines of Moria. Since their inclusion, players have discussed -- loudly -- how the system could be fixed and improved, and Turbine's made a couple of attempts at refining the feature into something we can all enjoy.

And yet Legendary Items remain in that category that I like to call "love-hate," where there's almost as much to love about them as there is to loathe. I've waited a long time to write this article because the timing never felt right; either I was too new to the system to speak with any authority on it or changes were "right around the corner" or I was lazy. Take your pick.

Perhaps talking about this today is beating somewhat of a dead horse in the LotRO community, but I wanted to get my thoughts out why LIs haven't quite gotten to where they need to, how they've failed, where they've succeeded, and why I pray every evening for cosmetic weapons so I can get rid of that ugly glow effect.

Legendary items
Love: The idea

Let us go all the way back to the origin of this sytem, when Turbine told us that it was going to take a cue from Frodo's Sting and Gandalf's, um, Awesome Stick of Power (no time for research, Doctor Jones!) in LotRO. The idea, the devs said, was for us to have a special weapon that could be leveled up, modified, and even named. It would be as special to us as those rare in-book weapons and items were to the characters.

To be frank, I really loved this idea. I still do. I think it works as a concept perfectly within the boundaries of the game and the IP, and it was a powerful bullet point for an already packed expansion.

Hate: The randomness

Probably the biggest and most glaring problem that started rearing its head when the luster of the system wore off for fans was that Legendary Items were a "lotto," for all intents and purposes. You would never be able to see what legacies you'd get until you leveled up, and if you were pinning your hopes on finding a LI with a certain combination of legacies, you could be in for a very long haul.

To Turbine's credit, the LI lotto was somewhat addressed this past year as you can now extract one legacy from a deconstructed LI for use in another. This may not be a perfect or elegant solution, but it works and has reduced complaints about the randomness of the system down to nil. Prove me wrong, comments!

Love: The ability to fine-tune

Going back to the concept of LIs, I like that they're basically little parallel avatars that synergize with your character. By finding, selecting, and equipping the legacies and runes you want, you can fine-tune your character through his or her LI. In theory, this should allow for more choices when it comes to your playstyle -- favoring certain types of skill or play over others -- but I'm not quite sure if this is how it works practically. I think people will still go for cookie-cutter builds, even with LIs as another layer on top of virtues and deeds and stats.

Speaking of which...

Hate: The complexity

My biggest complaint about Legendary Items is just that it added a whole mess of a complex system onto an already complex game. LIs took me a long time to wrap my head around because the system wasn't -- and isn't -- intuitive and clearly explained in-game. There's really too much crap to have to deal with, from constantly reforging and deconstructing LIs to assembling relics, assigning points, and leveling up a harem of unused LIs that existed solely to be destroyed at some point in the future. Heck, it took me forever to realize that there were differences between tiers of legacies or how one goes about getting a "crafted" relic to fill a slot that was almost always vacant on my character.

It's needlessly complex and really isn't fun to mess around with. I tried to give it a fair chance, but that wore off before long, and now I'm focused on getting a small handful of legacies when I switch over to a new LI so that I don't suddenly have to adjust to not having benefits that I enjoyed previously.

Love: Post-level cap leveling

Because you could theoretically be leveling a string of LIs together forever, there's always a use for XP (in this case, item XP) after you hit the level cap. I hate feeling like XP is going to waste just because I'm sitting at the top, and that usually robs me of a lot of motivation to go out and quest. With LIs, I know that this XP is going toward something that should help my character out, and it provides some element of incentive to do stuff in the game world.

I'll even add another quick love right here: I love being able to name my LIs. I usually do so in pairs, such as "Sticks" and "Stones." It's a small touch that really nobody is going to see but me, but it still makes me feel like I made my stamp on the game in some way.

Hate: How common they are and the look

By definition, Legendary Items are, well, legendary. They should be rare, special, unique, and powerful. What they should not be are more common and worthless than Happy Meal toys, being toted around Middle-earth by every Jack and Jill Goblin in existence. Stumbling over them constantly just ruins whatever shred of immersion about their legendary value remains. Plus, it stops being fun to stumble upon new LIs because it feels like the game's giving you a chore: "Here, go identify this. Then level it up. Then destroy it."

I'm also very much not a fan of LI weapon looks. I've gone on record many times, including during a couple of conversations with Turbine, that the weapon sameness and the incredibly ugly glow effect is just off-putting for an item that should have us excited. I've seen non-LI weapons in the game with genuinely cool visual effects -- soft glows, crackling electricity -- but what's going on here with LIs looks like something a 2002-era MMO might produce?

Conclusion: What would I do with LIs?

As you can see, my love-hate relationship with LotRO's LIs balances precariously. I'd like to see it definitely swing toward the "love" side, but how? What would I do to change this if I could?

If I could design LIs from the bottom-up while retaining the concept, I think I'd begin by ensuring that when you gain your first LIs, they're the only LIs you'll ever get. Getting that Legendary Item should be a momentous occasion that signifies a big step in your advancement (such as, again, Frodo/Bilbo getting Sting). Let the player be able to modify its look, name it, and keep it for the remainder of his or her journey.

It goes without saying that LIs as droppable loot would go bye-bye. In fact, I think I'd completely kill the whole relic system as well and give players much more in the way of choice instead of grinding when it comes to developing their LIs. There are several ways to do this, but I like both what RIFT and EverQuest II do with Alternative Advancement XP and how Star Wars: The Old Republic allows you to modify custom gear. Continue to utilize item XP as a ways to build up the LI, just in a different way.

Barring that, I think Turbine should simply have a legacy vendor and let us purchase exactly the legacies we desire so that all we have to worry about is leveling up and occasionally switching to a new LI. I see no reason that the stat bonuses of relics couldn't be rolled into legacies anyway.

The bottom line is that I'd love for changes to be made to Legendary Items so that I have a genuine reason to be excited about them. They don't need to be as complex as they are to be as useful and enjoyable as Turbine obviously wants them to be. We're halfway there, guys -- let's go the distance and not settle for the status quo.

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 or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.

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