LOTRO Legendarium: Fixing Lord of the Rings Online’s grouping problem

    
19
One of the quirks — and frustrations — of MMORPGs is that there never seems to be one game that truly has it all. Even some of my favorites are missing what I consider key features or design elements that are present elsewhere, and it’s maddening to think about how much better the game could be with those features transplanted.

For Lord of the Rings Online, I have to say that my biggest frustration with the game design is that dungeons might as well be non-existent. Oh, they’re in the game (and raids and skirmishes too), but LOTRO has never cultivated a dungeon-running community of the sort that you see in contemporary MMOs.

In other games, I enjoy changing up the routine by grouping up with others for a run through detailed setpieces as we battle our way to the final boss. I enjoy the rewards that those runs bring and learn a lot more about how to play my character. This has almost never been the case for me and LOTRO, and it’s not for a lack of trying. This MMO has a grouping problem that undercuts participation and interest in the dungeon scene, making such runs an anomaly instead of part of the mainstream. I have some observations from my point of view and some thoughts about how it could be fixed.

LOTRO’s secret world

During this past spring’s anniversary scavenger hunt, we had a few weeks where players were encouraged to dive into dungeons to perform specific actions for the quests. It was, honestly, the first time I had ever been aware of these dungeons, nevermind actually set foot in them. I actually had a great time visiting these places solo (thanks to the ability to scale the dungeons way below my level) and felt rueful that it wasn’t as part of a team of heroes battling through at level.

By my count, LOTRO has 68 small group dungeons, around 20 raids, and 19 skirmishes, as well as epic battles, public dungeons, and crafting instances. It’s certainly a lot of group-worthy content, and yet they don’t get as much play as they really should. For many players like myself, these remain a “secret world” tucked away behind the landscape quests and epic story.

It’s not that the game is designed to exclude dungeons; obviously, the devs have put a lot of work and artistry into making them, and there are always those players who are delighted beyond belief every time a new cluster comes out.

The two-fold problem

The issue here is two-fold. First, nobody really uses the dungeon grouping tool as a random queuing experience. The common perception is that the dungeon tool is there for pre-established groups to access the instance and difficulty level of choice, while people looking for strangers to group with should dwell in the LFF channel like it was still 2008. I’ve spent many nights in the queue to see if the system would ever pair me up with a group, and I cannot recall such a match ever happening.

As someone else pointed out, Turbine originally designed the instance finder to help parties find instances — not for players to find groups. There have been “fixes” to the system over time to patch in workarounds, but this approach hampered the tool from the start.

Second and connected with the first point is that the instance finder really isn’t up front on the interface, nor does it offer truly tantalizing rewards to add incentive to using it. Sure, there’s the featured instance, but even that never seems to pop for me when I use it.

LOTRO’s instance finder was added about four years after the game’s launch, which was three years after World of Warcraft had added its immensely popular looking for group tool. In other games like FFXIV and RIFT, such LFG interfaces are used constantly and as part of the daily pattern of gameplay. But not LOTRO. No, LOTRO remains this weird anomaly within the MMO space where it has a lot of group content that the greater community doesn’t seem aware of, interested in running, or drawn to doing.

I’ve always felt that part of the blame for this situation is that the dev team never really threw its full confidence behind the group finder. LOTRO’s solo game was always given vast priority, with dungeons and raids not integrated much with a normal player’s everyday adventures. While capable of a lot of utility and options, the instance finder ended up being tucked out of sight and slightly unwieldy to use compared to similar tools in other MMOs.

Dungeon open house

The solution to this situation? Without getting rid of the more robust instance finder, Standing Stone Games should develop a second, much more streamlined LFG tool and put it front and center in the interface. Better and more tantalizing rewards — such as housing and cosmetics, which are always big draws in this game — should be tied to the use of this tool. There could even be login prompts or better explanations in the game about how players could gear up by using certain dungeons, because I know that I am flummoxed about the path of gear progression in this game past quest rewards.

Another idea would be to develop a specific reward track for going through all of the game’s dungeons, unlocking desirable rewards after each unique instance conquered. This way, players would get better acquainted with the options out there and perhaps find themselves interested in coming back to them in the future.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that Lord of the Rings Online needs to abandon its core gameplay to force group dungeons on us all. I just would like to actually be able to run instances when I’m in the mood for them without having to shout into the void or pester my kinship for company. SSG keeps making new dungeons? Great. But maybe it’s time that the studio also look at why people aren’t using the instance finder for what should be its intended purpose and come up with a better way to encourage and group up players for dungeons.

What do you think?

Does LOTRO have a grouping problem? If so, how would you like to see the game improved to facilitate and encourage more dungeon running? Let us know in the comments!

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.
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Anstalt

I played LotRO from release up until half way through Isenguard – so I killed Draigoch but left before the Tower of Orthanc raid came out.

LotRO’s group content used to be amazing! At release, it was a very group-focused game, you had to complete the group content to hit max level or else you ran out of content and would have to grind mobs for days. It was truly great. A lot of the dungeons were so big that you couldn’t clear them in one sitting if you were on level (e.g. fornost), so it felt like a real achievement to kill that final boss.

This resulted in a group-friendly game with a great community. Those who were around at launch will hopefully remember, but PUGs were very common and most people were happy to join and learn with one another. Even at endgame, there were still pug raids going on, and going on successfully.

But then, Turbine decided to change it. As with all games that rely on vertical progression, once the pack had made it to endgame, everyone following them struggled to find groups. So, Turbine added more solo zones and quests so you could hit endgame purely solo. Then they started revamping leveling zones to remove the group content.

With Moria, they just didn’t bother with group content until the level cap. They also switched to tiered gear (radiance) at endgame which killed off the casual raiding scene. But, at least we still had 4 or 5 dungeons and a big raid.

Then came mirkwood…..what a piece of shit. Terrible zone design, only 1 6-man instance and 1 3-boss raid. Add in the skirmish system which was too easy. Add in F2P which diminished the quality of the community.

Then came isenguard. I can’t remember any 6man dungeons, but it only had 1 raid which was a single boss. A cool boss, but 1 dragon can’t keep you entertained for long…

This is all to say Turbine brought this on themselves. Their combat and class system was the best I have ever played, resulting in very tactical fights and excellent strategies, it was truly a pleasure to play. But, they quickly gave up on that focus, making everything solo, reducing the amount of relevant group content. Hell, they stopped making raids for years. They deliberately neglected the grouping scene and drove off those players. I hear they even dumbed down all the classes and trivialised most of the group content anyway, so the group content isn’t even that fun. I mean, before I quit they had managed to destroy the barrow downs, Garth Argewen and Fornost.

I am glad they never implemented a proper LFG tool. Not having one was part of the reason the community was better than other MMOs.

Reader
donvweel

That is why the game is kind of flat for me after DDO. Its a beautiful world to ride around in but it is not exciting enough combat wise. I don’t think group finder would be enough to fix it.

Reader
Tim Anderson

Maybe reach out and be a part of the community…use their forums, ask around in OOC, and the like….you know, actually “communicate” with other players…rather than rely on a game feature that you don’t enjoy using in the first place.

Point in case…we’re off in EQ1 right now. Group-based game, far more so than LOTRO. No real group finder functionality (on the Agnarr server). And yet I’ve had full groups every day of the week on both my druid, and my chanter.

Then again, I’m constantly chatting with people in OOC, on the EQ forums, on the Reddit subforum, and in the world chat. And we’re doing super obscure dungeons that no one does anymore and you can’t go to unless you have custom groups.

But you gotta be willing to put yourself out there and be social.

Reader
Roger Melly

I recently joined the a kinship where they are all leveling together . What they are doing is using the experience disabling item that’s available for 100 tp in the turbine store . They set a maximum level then do the content for that level (currently 32 )for several weeks and then increase it by a few more levels ( soon to be 40 ) and they play to go on like that . It seems a very good idea to me because I have missed a lot of the earlier content .

Maybe you should try and start something up on whatever server you play on Justin ? ( It seems to be supported by quite a few people on evernight )

Reader
Tim Anderson

Yep! I’ve found that if you put yourself out there and be social, you’ll always find groups. Blame rarely lies on the game or the developers when it comes to a player’s ability or inability to find a group. There’s ALWAYS groups of players out there who want to run the content!

Apridise
Reader
Apridise

You shouldn’t have to put yourself out there, after a long day of work, what’s wrong with just logging in to enjoy the game but only communicating when you HAVE to? I don’t think everyone should have to be a social butterfly to enjoy all of the content.

Reader
Roger Melly

I can understand that sentiment but maybe if you feel like that after a long day’s work perhaps a single player game would be more to your taste ?

Apridise
Reader
Apridise

So I need multiple games just to make social people happy?

Reader
Elkay Miney

I’ve played this game since it came out. (10+) In my opinion, the game has a very, very rich solo experience that is highly valuable and entertaining to the casual player, who I believe is the core demographic. This just isn’t a game designed for hard core raiders, IMHO. My 30 year old sons -hard core raiders- were bored to tears with this game and left it years ago and have never returned. I regularly receive their mocking scorn for continuing to play it. When the hard core raiders leave, which they always do, what’s left are the casual players that have been here for years or leave and come back.

You gain experience so fast and can over level areas very quickly. All group content, to be relevant, should be scalable, challenging but obtainable (not overly difficult) to appeal to the casual player. There should not be any tie-ins to a armor grind mechanic, because eventually that causes the instance to become irrelevant once a new expansion/update comes out.

Not all casual players have the time and desire to grind their limited play time away. However, the 6man/12 man instance rewards should also be designed to provide exceptional value to anyone that plays them, regardless of the ‘grind’ they are playing, or not playing, at the moment. They need to be compelling and fun to a player like me, not overly long or difficult and have great rewards that are meaningful and valuable. This is an old game. I love relaxing with it on the weekends, but harder content I’m going to want to run with my kin, people I can learn with that stay the same. PUG people are unknown elements and it is hard to learn tough content that way- personally I avoid them.

The instance finder or group finder, in this particular game, is just a frosting question because of the other long term, systemic game design decisions that the game’s developers made over many, many years. At this point in the lifecycle of the game, I just don’t believe it matters, but I’ll keep playing regardless.

Just my .02 as an older, long time player.

Reader
teppic

I think it’s the lack of decent relevant rewards that is a the main problem. People can level far more efficiently by doing quests and skirmishes (either solo or with one person) and dungeons in the game take a lot of time, need more people and are more difficult.

If the rewards were there — not just gear maybe but tokens for cosmetics, titles, mounts, etc. — people would be far more inclined to do them; tons of people grind the festivals for the daily rewards, they’d do the same for instances.

The lack of a better finder isn’t the real problem I think. Groups can be formed in chat without much difficulty if people actually want to do the content.

Reader
Fervor Bliss

Why do we feel the need for all MMO’s to be the same?
Some players skirmish and play the dungeons.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Nic Hickman

I guess the point of the article is that there is a lot of great group content that the game isn’t good at making easily accessible or even visible to players. Sure people might like skirmishes, but maybe lots of people would enjoy those dungeons if they knew they existed and had a group to run them with?

Reader
Michael18

From my experience, dungeoneering always worked whenever they had meaningful rewards attached to it that weren’t just a one time thing (e.g. some end game currency). Then people were doing instances regularly and it was usually very easy to find PUGs via chat (I did that often). Only problem, maybe, was that people quickly found out the one instance that was most effective for grinding and then this was the only instance run ;-) But with some clever reward design this should be possible to avoid (as with the daily and weekly recommended instances).

So, to me it seems only a problem of the rewards, not the missing instance finder. A better instance finder would still be welcome, of course.

Reader
Mark Mealman

There simply isn’t enough population in MMOs to support lower level/tier dungeons long after launch. In fact, most non-max game content is a desert in MMOs awhile after launch. It really drives off new players because the game feels lonely and you can’t do group content unless you grind to max level first.

The good solutions aren’t usually designed in with MMOs at the start. Dungeon finders need to be cross realm and preferably level scale players to the content. GW2 sunk a crap ton of work into their instancing system to ensure lower level zones have population drawn in from all the servers. POE/Diablo basically reboot themselves every 3-4 months with leagues and seasons. These reboots end up being the perfect entry point for having a large population to experience the non-max content with.

For an older MMO like LOTRO about the only thing they can do is cross realm dungeon finders with level scaling. Rift did this with instant adventures and it’s worked very well. It’d be a lot of work re-doing the old dungeon to do level scaling though, but that’s also been done before.

Apridise
Reader
Apridise

I don’t see why Lotro would be any different than any other game in terms of population at low levels, you can make alts in this game. Plus a functional lfg tool would make a lot of old content MUCH more accessible and make levels a less grindy and more enjoyable leveling experience increasing the number of low level characters.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Patreon Donor
Loyal Patron
Ashfyn Ninegold

When the tool was introduced, it’s limitations quickly became its doom. You only use it, even now, just to get to your dungeon, using LFF to actually group up.

There already are some good achievement rewards for finishing certain dungeons, but that pretty much stopped at Mirkwood, which is really the last time I can remember their being robust dungeoneering in the game. For some reason, Isengard was just a mess and landscape grouping became the thing after that.

Gear progression has become all about socketables, which is the most arcane thing I’ve encountered in a game since Runes of Magic. The game doesn’t explain a thing about crafting them or how to acquire the better ones, both of which do require group content.

Consequently, most players are left out of the inner secret circle, while raiders disdainfully continue to claim that there’s no reason for anyone but them to be properly geared.