I've made many a new alt in Lord of the Rings Online over the years, and some of those alts even survived the reality show-like elimination process to make it to high levels. Well, at least until Moria, after which the Balrog probably got them. In 2013 alone I've made good attempts at three alts, the highest of which is level 51.
However, my enthusiasm for alting in LotRO is on the wane. I feel as though I've seen and done everything in those low levels to death, and Turbine isn't giving me good enough reasons to go back through it again. That's unfortunate because alting extends our interest in a title and gives us something to do once we've run out of new content to devour. So here are three ways that Turbine could encourage players to reroll more often in the future.
Just about everyone I've played with in LotRO is annoyed by restrictions between races and classes. While some classes (Hunters, Guardians) are available across the board, others are limited to just one (Captains) or two (Burglar, Lore-master, Rune-keeper) races. And while rolling a Man opens up just about every class (save Rune-keepers), if you pick a "shorty" race, then you'll be denied the choice of four classes.
So here's my first suggestion: LotRO needs to take these restrictions and fling 'em to the wind. I'm serious. Lore nerds can sit on it until the next paragraph because race-class restrictions are always annoying in any MMO that puts up these arbitrary walls (or class-gender/race-gender restrictions). Why? Players value choice, especially in making and playing the character that they want to play. If I want to be a Dwarf Lore-master or an Elf Burglar, just let me.
The pushback against this, of course, will come from the developers and players who might deem this as lore-breaking. Yet I don't think it is, not really. Sure, not every race-class pairing can be backed up by what's read in The Lord of the Rings, but not all of the current pairings can either. I think The Flaming Bard constructed a terrific case for the inclusion of Hobbit Captains, and she shows how some of the current decisions are on shaky grounds of logic anyway.
Giving players new race-class combo options is a low-cost, low-effort way to encourage new alts. World of Warcraft did it for Cataclysm, and I thought that that was probably the best thing to come out of that muddled mess of an expansion.
This is not an original idea, not even to this column, but creating a new class is a surefire way to get people going through all of that lovingly crafted lowbie content once again. This is hampered by a few obstacles, however. The class has to fit the IP and theoretically be drawn from the books. At this point there may be no other class ideas that can be pulled from Lord of the Rings (personally I like the idea of a skin-changer class based on The Hobbit's Beorn or a more pure Ranger class that utilizes some of the skills we've seen in the Grey Company's story sessions).
Plus, Turbine doesn't seem too keen on pursuing new class development. The team's already said that it's much more interested in the huge class revamp that's coming later this year, and that's where the devs' attention and time is being spent. I have to think that the continued fallout from the Rune-keepers would make the devs a little shy in pulling the trigger on any other classes in fear of upsetting the lore purists.
However, I think new classes would be worth doing and should be made sooner rather than later. Many of LotRO's contemporaries embrace new races and classes on a regular basis in expansions. LotRO itself looked to be on the path to continually giving us new options with the Warden and Rune-keeper. But now it's been years of status quo on the class front, and that should change.
While it's not sweeping across the entire industry, legacy-type systems are starting to make headway in MMOs. These are any systems that encourage you to reroll in order to reap special advantages or to build a stronger character. Getting a boost makes alting more enjoyable because sometimes it's hard to go back to square one when you're used to your uber-equipped level-capped character.
What's even more interesting to me are systems that tempt you with huge bonuses or even improved classes if you scrap your high-level character and reroll. Turbine is no stranger to this with Dungeon and Dragons Online's reincarnation system, and Kingdom of Loathing's ascension comes to mind as well.
There are so many ways to do this that I couldn't say which would be the best for LotRO. It could fit within the game's framework as your main character passing down his or her legacy to a student or offspring. It could be a new section of the deed system that opens up for a second run-through, one that offers a new set of bonuses that have a drastic impact on your gameplay. Or it could even be improved versions of the classes, hero classes if you will, that reward diligent alts with a the next step for their class' evolution.
In old school gaming parlance, this would be "new game plus" -- a slightly different challenge with improved rewards to encourage players to go through it all again. It's worked in the past. It might work well here.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.