Mines of Moria was easily the most ambitious expansion that Lord of the Rings Online created. Not only did it implement the largest underground realm in any MMO ever and add two brand-new classes to the game, but it also introduced a huge system of alternate advancement through which players could level up and customize special items that would be carried with them throughout their journey.
I think there’s a better solution. I say that it’s time to exorcise legendary items from the game once and for all. Get rid of them. Kick them to the curb, dust off our hands, and move on with our gaming lives.
I can understand why the concept of legendary items was appealing to everyone in the room. MMOs are structured around character progression, and having players hit level and skill caps is a problem. Players no longer feel like they’re growing more powerful, and often dunking their heads into dungeons and raids is the only wait to get gear to help with power progression. So an alternative advancement track is appealing, and many MMORPGs — from EverQuest II to World of Warcraft — have dabbled in this area.
LOTRO’s solution brought in a pair (later, three when you count the warhorse item) of legendary items that could be leveled and slotted as if they were an adjacent character connected at the hip to the main one. Players loved the huge boost to power and DPS from the get-go, and the appeal of collecting and leveling up certain traits to customize builds was appealing.
However, it didn’t take long before players realized that this wouldn’t be an engaging system that would fulfill the concept of being some sort of ancient weapon or item that could be carried with them for the rest of their days. Legendary items had level caps that required constant farming, disassembling, and grinding to improve. What was once a joy to behold in those early days of Moria quickly became an albatross that hung around the neck of every gamer.
Because that’s the real problem with legendary items: You HAVE to use them in Lord of the Rings Online. They’re too powerful to eschew for normal gear. So we’re stuck with this Frankenstein mishmash that isn’t easy to understand nor is fun to engage with. And we’ve had it for over 12 years now.
It isn’t as if Turbine/SSG is unaware of the intrinsic problems with legendary items. The developers have fully acknowledged that the system isn’t working as intended and have made half-hearted attempts to slap fixes and bandages to improve things until a time — a magical time! — arrived when a full revamp of the legendary item system could be done.
This time, it should be mentioned, has never arrived nor will it ever come in the future.
It’s just not a good system. It’s too obtuse for your average player to fully understand and far too grindy for anyone to derive enjoyment. Its traits aren’t that exciting when it comes to customizing builds. Plus, if I’m piling on here, the legendary weapon models are almost universally ugly.
You know it’s a convoluted system because if there was an easy way to streamline and revamp it, it would’ve been done by now. So that brings me back to this column’s thesis, which is that instead of a revamp, legendary items should simply be ditched in favor of using regular gear. If the team wanted to explore a different alternative advancement or character customization system, more power to it, but LIs have had their chance and they didn’t make it.
Sunk cost fallacies
OK, I’ll admit that it’s easy for me to wave my hand and make a sweeping statement such as, “Get rid of all legendary items.” And I’ll admit that it probably can’t happen at this point. Why? We’re so, so far down into the pit of a sunk cost fallacy.
The developers don’t want to give up on a system that they’ve been adding to and refining over the years like a shaky Jenga tower of design ideas. Getting rid of LIs would be a blow to the ego, to say the least, and a full admission of failure. So they’re going to push ahead with it.
But what’s really significant is that players have been paying real money through the cash shop to buy and improve legendary items over the years. This is what makes getting rid of LIs impossible, because players have literally sunk cost into these virtual items. There would be a riot of the pitchforks and torch variety — and a possible lawsuit — if SSG was to one day yank all of that away.
And so we sit deep in this pit, unable to simply fill it in and walk away from the mess of legendary items. Our only hope is that SSG does some day make good on its promise to improve the system, ideally by greatly streamlining it and turning it into an attractive system that is intuitive and engaging.
It’s a pretty paltry hope. But it’s all we got.