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!