LOTRO Legendarium: The return of the dungeon

    
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While I’ve been playing Lord of the Rings Online as one of my main MMOs for almost a decade now, it’s primarily been for the single-player experience through the majestic and detailed world. I suspect that a disproportionally large percentage of the playerbase approaches the game in a similar fashion compared to other fantasy MMOs.

There’s something about LOTRO’s group content that’s never been able to convince me that it’s worth doing in the same way that I would in other games. I’ve liked it well enough when circumstances conspired to throw me into a group experience, but I’ve never felt that doing dungeons was something I had to do to gear up. Quest rewards have been just fine to get me through the zones and epic story thus far, and I don’t think that will change.

And for a time, it looked as though Turbine had acknowledged that this was the case by taking instance clusters off the table in early 2014 in favor of lesser group content, like epic battles, roving warbands, and a handful of tougher areas. However, now that the game is under new leadership and well into a new year, we’re seeing the return of the dungeon at last. Why the change of direction and how might it benefit the community? That’s been on my mind a lot as of late.

Fresh dungeons and better rewards

I have two maxims that I’d like to share that pertain to today’s topic. The first is that while I don’t appreciate MMOs that force me to group up, I do like games that provide interesting and rewarding group content for when I have the desire to play with others. The second is that trying out new ideas is vital to the growth of MMOs, but it should never come at the expense of neglecting or eliminating established systems that work and are enjoyed by players.

As for the first maxim, LOTRO half-succeeds and half-fails. It’s quite hands-off when it comes to encouraging me to do group content, but perhaps it’s so hands-off to the point that I’m able to be blissfully ignorant that it even exists. Itemization in LOTRO instances has always been haphazard, and it’s not as though the devs have provided sufficient incentive to use the group finder (the daily bonus rewards are… underwhelming, to put it kindly).

As for the second, I think LOTRO has stumbled since Helm’s Deep (and perhaps before) by completely eschewing established and semi-popular group content in favor of completely new systems. The epic battles, while functional, are simply no replacement for raids, skirmishes, and traditional instances, and yet the devs have been pushing these hard at the expense of more instance clusters. That in turn brewed a lot of resentment and frustration among the players, who had to either adapt to epic battles or continue to mine the same old stale dungeons that have been in place for years.

A bold new paradigm isn’t needed for group content in LOTRO; what we already have in place works fine. We merely need fresh challenges and better rewards.

The fellowship of the buffet

Believe it or not, LOTRO has quite the buffet of options for group-minded players. There are your traditional dungeons that come in small- and full-group size as well as multi-fellowship raids. Then you have public dungeons, elite landscape areas, warbands (including the heftier roving variants introduced in recent updates), skirmishes, and multiplayer quests.

I’ll even give props to the dev team for making an effort to revamp a few of the older instances and provide scaling options for some of the dungeons so that a larger level range can enjoy them. There’s also the improved dungeon finder interface that both groups players up with strangers and allows friends to remote queue for a particular instance with ease. And then there’s the new sidekicking tech seen with the epic battles that takes a low-level character and artifically boosts him or her to be around the same level as a friend for that encounter.

All of this is great, of course, but it’s also undercut by a fading relevance for this content. Too many of the old systems haven’t received needed revamps or additional instances to keep associated players happy. When’s the last time we got a new skirmish? 2012? For the record, I adore skirmishes for so many reasons, but when I see Turbine abandon continued development in that area, it takes away any desire I have to play the ones that are around.

And as I said before, I strongly feel that subpar rewards undercut player interest in participating in the instance culture. Am I going to get a First Age LI drop or a cool new tier of armor by doing this instance? Nope? Well, then why should I run it more than once for curiosity’s sake?

Sure, some will do it on principle because they have a passion for group content, but the decisions made over the past year or two have done more to repel than attract players to such challenges.

The return of the dungeon

This is all a very roundabout way of saying that I’m actually thrilled to see that Turbine has apparently recognized its mistake in neglecting the traditional instance cluster by including one with Update 16. Sure, it doesn’t contain a raid, but I sincerely doubt that there’s a large LOTRO raiding community that needs to be fed at this point. There are always kinships and groups of friends who desire to run stuff together, however, and now those players have a trio of new dungeons to explore.

I also think it’s a great idea that the team took one idea from past skirmishes and epic battles by weaving these instances into the game’s questline. First of all, when you’ve spent a lot of time and resources on making new content, you want as many players as possible to experience that. Second, by providing a “kiddie pool” introductory version, you might convince otherwise reluctant groupers to give the tougher version a try.

Instances can be a terrific storytelling tool that uses a dramatic backdrop to play out both scripted and unscripted tales. If the price (in terms of rewards) is right, then it’s worth it to players to make the effort to get together to share in that story.

At least for me, it’s rallied my interest in queuing up for dungeons in a way that I haven’t experienced in a long time. I can only think of the possibilities for such content as we plow into Mordor.

I’d love to hear from all of you LOTRO dungeon runners. Is this too little, too late, a great addition, or a promising start? What group content does LOTRO need going forward?

Every two weeks, the LOTRO Legendarium goes on an adventure (horrid things, those) through the wondrous, terrifying, inspiring, and, well, legendary online world of Middle-earth. Justin has been playing LOTRO since its launch in 2007! If you have a topic for the column, send it to him at justin@massivelyop.com.
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pcgneurotic
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pcgneurotic

I really need to get back into LoTRO. I’ve got tons of characters, only one of which is any higher than the mid-30s. But wow, is it ever a daunting prospect!

melissamcdon
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melissamcdon

Started a new Hunter on Brandywine.   The game is a little different than it was years ago, but I’m enjoying it.

tenfootgoatman
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tenfootgoatman

I’ve been playing it on and off since the start . Still not made it to 100 with a character but I am at last making some headway with my burglar . The way Lotro seems to me its got some moments of brilliance . I think it would be improved by a working dungeon finder ( don’t think I have ever found a group using it ) but something that would keep my interest more would be a few pvp skirmishes for those times when I find the pve content a bit boring ( it would be nice to have an alternative leveling route when that happens .

The Iron Dagger
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The Iron Dagger

Bango Yeah, my arm hurts from the dead-horse-flogging every time I bring it up. And I’m not sure how much the instance finder helps – on Laurelin, it got me nothing but hours of crickets. By comparison, even on a moderately populated private WoW server, I rarely saw dungeon finder queues take longer than 30 mins.

Like Michael18 said below, dungeons remain vital to a themepark like LoTRO. I said Turbine can’t fix the elitist problem, but if they were somehow able to put some manner of mentorship or ‘reward for inexperience’ mechanic into their instances, who knows? It might just do something for the dungeon-running population.

Bango
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Bango

For a long time the conventional wisdom within Turbine was that group content was either too expensive, too time consuming to produce, too difficult to produce, no one would play it etc etc. That was the rubbish peddled by Kate Paiz & Sapience who together wanted to turn LOTRO into a tolkien-lite version of the Sims. Thankfully both have gone and the Turbine team have been given the chance to show exactly what it can do. U16, as with 14 and 15 are on the whole good updates with a decent mix of open world and instanced solo & group content. Good luck to Turbine and here’s hoping for more of the same in the future.

Bango
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Bango

The Iron Dagger It LOTRO had a decent “Group Finder” then it would help to mitigate a lot of the nonsense of the vicious circles that you describe. As the game doesn’t have that facility we have to rely on /world for PUGS whereby people insist on being fully geared and experienced just to do basic group content – but that happens in PUGS right across the board in other MMOs.

shayneary
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shayneary

Slaphammer Amen

Michael18
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Michael18

Koshelkin Michael18 
For example, I’m talking about this: shortly after the class revamp my kin of very casual players started to do 12-man skirmishes with just around 7-8 people. Not because we wanted some extreme challenge or we had super-min/maxed characters, but because just roflstomping over the mobs got old very quickly. This wasn’t possible 3 years ago (and I’m not speaking of groups with maxed out characters and perfect use of combat skills but of casual players).

The Iron Dagger
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The Iron Dagger

ashfyn By ‘we’, you mean your own kinship? Yes, within kins this usually isn’t the case. I was looking at it from the perspective of PUGers who run kinless, either out of personal preference or inability to commit to the active schedules many kins expect. Many of the late-game instances I remember called for specialized groups, most of which were kin-led, so lone wolves got it worst.

That aside, it’s nice to hear about your Minstrel!
I remember one from Rise of Isengard who insisted on traiting
red for Foundry PUGs, and got savaged by the group every time.

ashfyn
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ashfyn

The Iron Dagger I actually haven’t found this to be the case at all, particularly with the new trait system.  We regularly run Tier 1 content with whoever is on.  Sometimes we don’t even have a full number.  Running 3 mans with 2 or 6 mans with 5 or 4.  I’m sure in certain kins, who are aim for the top tier, this may be true, but not so among most other players.

The new group content is really simple:  It’s a DPS race against morale pools.  That’s it.  Stack morale, trait your highest DPS build and you’ll be fine.  Even my Minstrel runs this content in DPS mode, as her high DPS is really more important than healing.