Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Progressive Questing: What LOTR does well

Lord of the Rings has fallen out of the spotlight since its release last year though its probably still in the running for second most popular MMORPG on the market right now. Turbine was lucky that it impressed so many people with its newbie zones since it helped garnered lots of extra revenue in the form of lifetime subscriptions. I think this has allowed the game to weather the huge exodus of players that occurred when the quality level was found to dip sharply in the middle to late levels. Players have said this is slowly changing in patches but I think its a little late since most people have returned to either Everquest 2 or World of Warcraft.

Its a shame really since Lord of the Rings does one thing better then either one of those games. It really has the best storytelling I've run across in a MMO. The series of quests organized into "Books" are exactly like playing through your favorite fantasy story. While early quests in the books are your standard kill ten rats most of them branch out into really unique dungeon crawls. The rewards are well balanced and include titles for completion which are often irresistible carrots to some players.

Its funny in a way since most modern MMOs seem to be moving away from RPG elements. Quest text is routinely ignored by players for being poorly written and overly obtuse. Players have gotten in the habit of simply looking at a quest title and checking for rewards at the end. If the rewards are good enough then they go to an online site to actually look up how to do the darn thing. While older gamers are aghast at how much easier we have it nowadays versus when Everquest ruled the market, it doesn't really matter. Today, a good portion of the MMO player base is on a casual gamer time frame which often translates into little time to waste.

When I first started playing Lord of the Rings I found myself actually reading the quest text for the first time in years. In World of Warcraft I had stopped around the time I got to the Barrens which probably accounted for why I was stuck on the sempholange quest for two days. While I like to say it was something unique that made me follow the quest storyline in LOTR but the truth was that I simply wanted to find out what happen next. Each quest in a Book was a small part of the overall story and they lead into one another which is probably why they are called chapters. doh!

Now that I think about it even in earlier games like World of Warcraft the best quests tended to be the chain quests which told a story. Things haven't changed much with Shadowmoon Valley and Netherstorm both receiving praise for their quest lines when the Burning Crusade came out. I mean who didn't want to accidentally free Teron Gorefiend and get that spiffy helm of second sight? Lord of the Rings does questing and progressive storytelling on that scale much more often and only a couple of things detracted from the experience.

One was the lack of classes able to heal a group through the harder quest lines. At the time of my quiting LOTR in October 2007 only the minstrel was really able to heal a party through most quests. The other thing was that progressive quest lines have the same problem that raid backflaging has in most games. People are almost never on the same part of the quest at the same time and people quickly get tired of helping people catch up.

Those issues were minor in the earlier levels where the quest lines didn't step up the difficulty too much. But at the later levels I'm sure it started to become a problem and contributed to the exodus. If only quest instances had a cross server queue or something so people could join parties more easily. I think Warhammer has a good idea with the public quests where everyone in an area is contributing to a common goal. In the future I think ideas like this combined with better LFG tools might bring back more RPG elements into our MMO. Until then I think LOTR is the role player's best friend at the moment.


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Kinless said...

My wife still wants to try Lotro. She played a few hour in the beta. Perhaps a month long visit to her favorite fantasy locale would make a nice present for her.

gt said...

I think you have a spam comment on this post O.o

Lotro is nice for casuals but once you get to a certain point I feel it lacks the high end polish that WoW has developed over three years. I played through beta and the first couple months and found the "2nd half" (aka endgame type things) of lotro to be unsatisfying. I still have my lifetime subscription so I will go back to the game to try new zones and things. Exploring in that game is a joy. :)

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