Thursday, June 28, 2007

LotRO is a grind after level 40 - Surprised?

My highest level character in Lord of the Rings Online is still only level 23. I don't play LotRO as much as I play WoW, and I have all available character slots full with alts, plus I'm often spending more time doing tradeskills than leveling. So I don't have first-hand experience of the gameplay after level 25. But more and more comments and reports are coming in that the higher-level gameplay sucks. Which, frankly, doesn't surprise me. Because I'm not really the LotRO fanboi as which some people are trying to paint me. I just liked the early part of LotRO, and wrote about it. I am completely aware that *all* MMORPGs suck in the end-game, and there was no suggestion ever that LotRO might have solved that problem.

Details on the LotRO game after level 25 can be found in this review, my thanks to the anonymous reader who sent me the link. If you read it closely, you will find that actually there is no complaint about the game between levels 25 and 39. LotRO used to be short of content in that area, but the Evendim content patch pretty much solved the problem. What the review is complaining about is that after level 40 LotRO turns into a grind. And I can totally believe that, because this is already the end-game. LotRO's level cap is currently 50.

The principal problem is that no MMORPG dares to tell players the truth, that there is a limited amount of content, and once you leveled up to the level cap and did all the quests, the game is basically over. An honest game would simply present you with a game over screen. A Japanese console RPG would present you with a game over screen and have this event unlock you restarting the game in hard mode, or with previously locked character classes. A MMORPG foresees the problem about 10 levels below the level cap, and just adds a lot of grinding to the game. You might have finished leveling, but you can still "advance" by killing 1,000 foozles, or camping rare spawns, or organizing a raid for 20+ people in which only few members will get some reward and most participants will receive absolutely nothing. By giving the players the illusion that advancement is still possible, the game keeps them playing. But sooner or later people realize that this end-game advancement is excruciatingly slow, boring, and doesn't really lead anywhere.

Is there a solution to that problem? There is, but you won't like it. The solution is to play the game slower than the developers can add new content. My wife still happily plays WoW, because she never reached the end-game. She only got to level 60 for the first time after TBC was already out, and after reaching level 68 she suddenly decided to start another alt, and is now playing a blood elf mage. Me leveling so slowly in LotRO is in the same spirit. Walls hurt less if you don't run into them full speed. :)

Does LotRO suck because of that? Not any more or any less than World of Warcraft. Currently LotRO is smaller, so if you play both games at the same speed you'd hit the wall earlier in LotRO. On the other hand it is possible that LotRO could add content faster than WoW did, Turbine has a good track record in that respect. There is also a distinct possibility that the LotRO developers plan to use the same alternative end-game grind that Warhammer Online plans to use: PvP. There has been talk of a lot more PvP zones being added, like Helm's Deep. Filling your end-game with repetitive PvP instead of repetitive PvE is an option, because PvP is less obviously repetitive. You'll conquer the same zone again and again, but at least the enemies, being controlled by other players, don't always react in exactly the same way.

I'm still hoping that one day a game comes along that has a better solution to what to offer at the end of the game.

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