A foundation for future growth: Examining LotRO's class restructuring

Justin Olivetti
J. Olivetti|10.17.13

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A foundation for future growth: Examining LotRO's class restructuring
A foundation for future growth Examining LotRO's class restructuring
Let's start out with the elephant in the room: The comprehensive and radical class changes that are coming to Lord of the Rings Online with Helm's Deep have a portion of the community rattled. After all, we are protective of our characters and concerned about changes that affect them, and this looks to be a doozy. You want to hear a secret? Turbine's a little scared too.

When asked if this might become LotRO's NGE -- the reviled shift in Star Wars Galaxies' gameplay structure -- the devs said it's something they've been asked a lot these days. They know that there's a part of the playerbase that's fearful, and in all honesty, the devs have had a few sleepless nights over the changes too. But past the fear is the certainty that this is the course the game needs to take right now, and that certainty grows by the day as they continue to test the changes on the beta server.

The team told us as such during a class tour today, going on to show us the scope of what's going to happen. What we're looking at here is the old class trait system thrown in the trash to be replaced by specializations and trait trees, as well as the paring down of many class skills into a more manageable number. It's going to impact everyone all at once, so if this is your game of choice, you'll want to read on.

A foundation for future growth Examining LotRO's class restructuring

The work to revamp the classes wasn't a kneejerk reaction; Turbine has been monitoring a lot of signals from players and struggling with the difficulty of giving classes future growth options for a while now.

If you're one of the players who thought your class played just fine and you liked it, you're not alone. The classes weren't broken, the devs said, but they were bloated. They had a ton of skills that duplicated functionality, weren't used regularly, and contributed to an overall picture of widely overlapping roles and fuzzy builds. It was also getting increasingly difficult for devs to create new skills with each expansion, and that did not bode well for the coming years.

Instead of tackling the problem piecemeal, the decision was made to do it all at once: to narrow down skills, give more potency to the skills that remained, and to make very defined roles. So if you play a DPS build, then expect to really feel like that come November. Likewise if you spec tank, support, or healing.

The team is not ignorant of the vocal protests against the changes. In fact, the devs acknowledged that there's always pushback in the beta with each new round of changes, yet they claim to be winning more and more people over to the new system as players have given it a chance over the patch iterations.

What Turbine really wants everyone to take away from these changes is this: it may be scary now, but the studio thinks you're going to like it in the long run and hopes you see it as a sign that the team is putting into place a structure for future character growth. The devs aren't just designing for today; they see a strong future for the game and they're doing a bit of housecleaning so that this future can be embraced.

A foundation for future growth Examining LotRO's class restructuring

After reading through a mess of developer diaries on these changes, I have to say that this dev tour finally gave the most straight-forward explanation of how the system will be changed with Helm's Deep.

Starting right after the tutorial at level 6, you'll have a crucial decision to make: your specialization. As you can see in the above screenshot, you'll have three to choose from, each of which will correlate to a specific trait line (think "talent tree" if that makes you feel more comfortable). The specialization screen offers a concise summary of what each offers so that new players won't feel as if they're making a major decision in the dark.

Once you've chosen your specialization, two things will happen. First, you'll be granted significant bonuses to certain aspects of your character: more healing potency, more spear damage, and so on. Second, you'll be offered the chance to spend trait points in the correlated line at a standard cost (you can spend points in the other two lines if you're going hybrid, but it'll cost you twice as much).

From there, you'll develop your character's build by investing trait points into your lines. The more you spend in a line, the more specialization bonuses and skills are unlocked, all the way up to a legendary skill. You'll get one trait point every other level, as well as trait points for completing class traits. Turbine said that a fully capped player who has completed all of the class traits will net somewhere between 60 and 65 trait points.

With the new UI comes multiple builds. You will start with two builds and be able to purchase more so that any player can have options when it comes to picking a role in his or her adventures. You can flip these on the fly as long as you're not in combat. So say goodbye to the trait bard NPC unless you need to purchase an item from her store. The virtue system will remain intact, though it'll be merged with the new UI for completeness' sake.

Now what about your skills? There is a group of skills that will be automatically given to your character no matter what your build. The devs said these skills just couldn't be denied to any build, so that is that. Then there are skills that will be unlocked through the trait trees.

We wondered how great the culling would be in the total skills for a character at the cap following the change. If the average player has about four full-to-overflowing hotbars right now, the devs said, he or she can expect that to go down to a little over two. All utility skills (such as fast-travel) will be retained, but combat skills will go down to around 20 for a traitline-dedicated build and 25 or so for a hybrid build.

The changes to classes don't stop there. While the team knows that players will fixate on the trait lines as the big change, there will be plenty of other tweaks to make combat more dynamic and exciting. Lengthy animations have been shortened or changed, every class now gets a crowd control break, and there are contextual skill bars that pop up for on-response events.

Threat has also been simplified from its older, creakier system. Now if you spec into a tank build, everything you do will generate aggro instead of just a handful of skills. Threat management will still need to be handled wisely during boss fights, but this change should help tanks overall.

The team is feverishly testing, accumulating feedback, and making adjustments to the system as the beta period progresses. While we won't see a full list of all of the changes until the expansion releases, the devs have acknowledged that players are hungry for information on the new system and are hoping that this tour will help settle some of those fears.

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