LOTRO Legendarium: Are the new seasonal instances a win or a whimper?

    
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Let us travel back to 2009, when Lord of the Rings Online released its second expansion pack, Siege of Mirkwood. This pint-sized expansion seemed underwhelming with its options (although it did give us one of my favorite zones in the game), especially after the grandeur that was Moria. However, Mirkwood did factor in a new feature that made a pretty big splash with players: skirmishes.

Skirmishes were a new type of instanced content that could be scaled in both difficulty and group size, both of which felt revolutionary at the time. They threw players into either an offensive or defensive quest, challenging the group to conquer piles of foes and continue to press onward by claiming flags, defending areas, and defeating optional side objectives. To make matters even more interesting, players got to bring along a soldier companion to assist, and this soldier could be modified and trained to become more effective.

People, by and large, really liked this system, but for whatever reason, the dev team didn’t push forward with new skirmishes in future updates and expansions. Like so many systems in LOTRO, it was left to stagnate.

And I felt that was unfortunate, because skirmishes had great potential and replayability, not to mention popular appeal. They were a great option for small groups and bored soloers who wanted a change of scenery. And the cosmetic rewards from the skirmish vendors were pretty great (again, in my opinion).

Now it’s nine years later in 2018, and Standing Stone Games has finally decided to dust off its skirmish system to do something a little different and unorthodox with it. Starting with the summer festival, seasonal instances have made their way into the game. Unlike past story instances, these piggyback on the skirmish system and use the same scaling technology and waypoint objectives that we’ve seen in the past. As we are rumored to be getting a lot more of these, especially with the fall festival, I was intensely curious how “The Perfect Picnic” would play out.

This quest uses the instance finder, which was a mixed blessing. On the up side, I appreciated the ability to jump into it wherever I was at without having to travel to a specific NPC. On the down side, it meant I had to use that unwieldy mess that is the instance finder. Seriously, that UI screen needs to be streamlined and revamped so bad. Was there any reason SSG couldn’t create an external button or two to launch these instances, perhaps from the quest log?

In any case, what we get here isn’t an intense combat instance, but rather one of LOTRO’s famously light-hearted romps. Here we’re tasked with escorting a food-laden pony through the Shire toward a picnic on a hilltop. Sounds easy enough, right?

Of course it’s not. It happens to be a hot day in the Shire (which was humorous to me, since the day I played this quest, we were suffering through a record-breaking heat wave in real life), and anything that can try to forestall that pony’s progress absolutely will do so. This means sweltering heat, nasty mirages, tempting patches of clover, and nosy Hobbits.

So much of this is buried in whimsy that it’s hard to analyze it logically. I mean, a heat wave that’s represented by balls of fire or a downpour represented by a sword-wielding elemental? It’s one of those “just go with it” scenarios.

Actually, it reminded me a lot of how LOTRO really tries to be imaginative within limits. Sometimes, as in the case in this skirmish, it is forced to use representational symbols for hard-to-see concepts like heat. I anticipated that the quest would involve more heat management (such as maybe walking instead of running or using water to cool down a heat meter), but in the end, it mostly came down to fighting or clicking on things before they could become a problem.

I did amuse myself by literally fighting fire with fire as a Lore-master. My fire-fu defeats your fire-fu!

The final section of this instance changed things up (and actually became interesting). Once a picnic spread is laid out, Hobbits, bugs, and rain try to come to ruin the food. The more food is ruined the less the end reward, so there’s a rush to run around and deal with these issues before they get to the picnic blanket.

So how does this shake out in the end? The Perfect Picnic is lacking the zest to make it truly memorable or enough variety to make it replayable. I wouldn’t want to do it again, especially since there are more efficient ways to farm tokens. I was hoping for more in-depth mechanics or better humor, but neither exist. Player strategy doesn’t really matter either.

At the very least, I can say that the use of the skirmish system for seasonal quests is functional and shows potential. If SSG can craft compelling stories with it and give us some variety within these instances, then I’ll look forward to trying the new ones out when they come along.

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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mosselyn

I think it’s OK. It succeeds as festival fluff and makes a nice change from the repeatable quests. It’s not the most fascinating or challenging content ever, but it’s a quick way to get some festival tokens. If you want to break your teeth on something, there’s Thrang.

(I, too, lament the neglect of the skirmish system. I had tons of fun doing 12-man skraids back in RoI. I still enjoy solo’ing them, but the number of marks you get are so out of whack with what you need to make meaningful purchases, it doesn’t feel worth it.)

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Viktor Budusov

Well as new festival activity it’s quite ok. Not superb but ok. I’ll look at more of these.

Alomar
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Alomar

I loved the first 5 years of Lotro, but I also hated the lows under WB Games so much that I cannot bring myself to return no matter who has the reigns. Yet, I hear decent things about Standing Stone’s direction, it’s just many years too late imo. I look forward to Lotro 2 or another more modern attempt at a lotr mmo.

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2Ton Gamer

SSG has done some things right, but still sticking to some pretty terrible old things and have done little to distinguish themselves as their own. Many missed opportunities and the majority of the content they have released has been rushed and they have such a small team that they do not have time to go back over for QA polishing on reported issues.

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Viktor Budusov

The old MMORPGs are the best. And i can’t see how returning is a problem.

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Koshelkin

I’d rather like to laudate Standing Stone Games to pour so much effort and imagination into this game, even if the quality is lacking sometimes. In an age were people celebrate the same old event each year, with slightly different rewards, bringing new seasonal content for an 11 year old game is actually extraordinary.

I’d love to see LotRO reimagined in a new engine with a certain modernization of gameplay but in the end it’s still one of the MMO’s with the most atmospheric landscapes, a fleshed out (very memorable)early and a(slightly less memorable)mid-game and an extensive endgame(which hurts itself with the usual carrot on a stick/regular level cap increases gameplay). The combat is old-school, much more so than WoW managed to keep it, with a deeper skillsetup and really unique classes. All it’s faults aside I think it’s incredible what Turbine/SSG did with this game during the last decade.

It’s good that LotRO is apparently here to stay because it is the biggest and one of the most faithful LotR/Tolkien game ever made.

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Weilan

I don’t mind the quality of the graphics, but I hate the poor map they made and how quests are displayed. They probably tried to make it different from WoW where a yellow exclamation mark is a new quest, a yellow question mark is a quest you can complete and blue are repeatable ones. Also how it displays those rings on the map, it’s really confusing and when I tried to play it felt like the game was pushing me away because I had trouble distinguishing where I had to go and what to do.

While I’m all for games like Morrowind where they give you directions “go south by the coast and look for a huge stone then turn right and walk until you see a forking”, but when the game has quest indicators, they should be better.

Even if it’s completely F2P, I still won’t play it for this reason. The game is not user friendly at all, even if it’s a WoW clone and I’ve played WoW for 10 years.

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Viktor Budusov

Oh god…. Not-like-WoW does NOT mean not-user-friendly. It’s incredible how wowboys are narrowminded.