LOTRO Legendarium: How the landscape difficulty slider is changing the rules of the game

    
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For a long time now, one of the chief complaints about Lord of the Rings Online has been that… it’s too easy. Players have noted that, for the most part, the landscape content is a breeze to navigate, especially once you’ve started to outpace it in levels. I don’t think this is always the case — there are some terrifically tough parts of Middle-earth out there — but I see the point. When a game doesn’t offer enough challenge, it stops being interesting to many players.

To address this, Standing Stone Games is introducing a rather unique optional system in Update 30: a difficulty slider. This won’t affect dungeons and raids, but rather allow individual players the ability to set the landscape difficulty higher. With 10 levels of difficulty (from “normal” through “deadly +6”), there are more than enough options to crank up the challenge and give your next run through the game some bite. But what does this do, exactly? And how could this benefit the game?

As we’ve come to recognize over the past couple of years, LOTRO’s smaller dev team is ambitious without always being able to fully deliver on its big dreams. And changing the entire difficulty of an MMORPG is a big dream to be sure. In fact, the closest analogue I can think of is how LOTRO’s sister game Dungeons and Dragons Online is able to offer multiple difficulty levels for its instances (and, for that matter, LOTRO’s dungeons as well). But this is landscape, a shared open world. How will that work?

The long and the short of it is that the studio is cheating. It’s not actually making anything on the landscape tougher than it used to be, such as scaling monster abilities, damage, and health up and down based on the player it faces. Rather, this system effectively puts a lasting nerf on your character to make you weaker. The higher the difficulty, the more hobbled your stats become. There are also specific debuffs that enemies can sling your way at higher difficulty tiers.

According to Vastin, “The difficulty mostly works by making you more vulnerable to monster attacks, and reducing your damage — so that it won’t interact too badly when other players who may not be at the same difficulty are present. There are a few enrage buffs that you can trigger on an enemy when you are in higher difficulties that other players would notice, but these shouldn’t be too much of a hindrance for players running around at normal difficulty even if they do encounter them directly.”

This makes sense to me. It’s a bit of a cheat, but I can see why this allows for more flexibility for the system while remaining within the abilities of SSG to actually execute.

As testers are discovering on Bullroarer this week, this game hack works more or less well. There may not be a need for quite so many difficulty levels, especially since the the game doesn’t inform you the difference between, say, Deadly +1 and Deadly +4. I got the feeling that you’re just supposed to experiment with the settings during the tutorial and early levels until you find the right level of difficulty for you, and then you just stick with that for the rest of your run.

LOTRO Players has a great breakdown of this information, by the way, and I want to commend that team for pulling it together.

I want to say that I love this idea. I really do. MMORPGs always need more options to change things up for alts, and special ruleset servers often provided that variety. Here, the player creates his or her own ruleset. I get the impression that this system came out of SSG’s previous desire to create a challenge legendary server (which it has since scrapped).

The obvious follow-up to the reveal of this difficulty system is why players would want to use it. Other than those who enjoy making an MMO run tougher on sheer principle alone, others will need some sort of incentive. After all, if I’m going to be investing more time and effort to overcome this challenge, what will I get out of it?

This is where it’s currently falling short, because as far as I’ve been able to discover, the only special reward that you’ll get for jacking up the difficulty is to gain some special titles for certain difficulty levels at certain character levels. That’s fine — it’s visible bragging rights — but I can’t help but be that guy and say, “That’s it? I’m going to be a punching bag for mobs for 130 levels and all I get is a virtual label that informs people I was said punching bag?”

Who knows if SSG has plans to further iterate on this system or if it’s a side project that works well enough to go into the game, but this is the type of thing that’s begging for a host of rewards. Increased loot drops or better loot levels, or even exclusive cosmetics, mounts, and housing items. All of that takes far more work on the part of the studio, but it’s what’s needed to fulfill the inherent concept of this idea.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how this emerges from testing and into live. It really should get a whole lot more testing than it probably will, especially considering that there are so many variables — including level boosts, powerleveling assists — that need to be addressed. And I can’t help but imagine how frustrating it’d be to run into a difficulty wall in your questing that can’t be overcome, which is inevitable with this sort of thing.

That said, this system certainly opens up a lot of exciting prospects for players who are bored with the status quo. I can see kinships or kinship sub-groups starting up that are comprised of characters attempting the game on specific difficulty tiers. That’s pretty cool.

So in summary, more options is always good — but even more testing is better. Landscape difficulty needs a whole lot of examination and trials before going live, and I do hope that the studio adds more rewards to this before we see it on retail servers.

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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Ben Stone

I like having difficulty options. They probably should compensate bonus XP for increased time to kill by the sound of the debuff.

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teppic

So they’ve taken what could be a decent idea and implemented in the cheapest and least imaginable way possible. Pretty typical for SSG.
They could have had rotating affixes, different ranges of spells/abilities that higher difficulty mobs could use. Nope, just an automated nerf to your character on a fixed scale.
They could have had cosmetic reward unlocks, a wide variety of rewards to work towards as you level your character on higher difficulty. Nope, they just give you a crappy title.
As usual they’ve taken the route that requires the least amount of work. There’s no UI addition, the difficulty itself is implemented as a quest because they couldn’t be bothered to do it properly.

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Travis Laborde

The game’s too easy! Too easy! tOO eASy!!

OK, here’s a difficulty slider.

What! I should be rewarded for using this new feature! No rewards? Wahhhhh!

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Castagere Shaikura

You can bet what’s coming next is I finished a quest on the hard setting and I should get better rewards for it.

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_a4

My blue Guardian fights kinda slow, I’d usually be 100% for such a feature in something like ESO, but in LOTRO, I’d actually like to reduce difficulty more, not because it’s hard, but because it’s pretty mundane and boring.

I would also enjoy to have harder time fighting mobs, but I don’t see how that will bring any more adrenaline or enjoyment to my playthrough. Combat overall is like Vanilla WoW, which is why I play it, but it’s so much jankier and more annoying. So I’d much rather prefer to take out enemies in a fewer hits and moving on instead.

And ideally, for them to improve the combat, the performance of the client and graphics.

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BlazeVortex4231

I feel like if these higher difficulties had particularly great rewards, it might render the lower difficulties practically nonexistent. There’s probably a balance to be struck, but it’s probably easier to increase rewards than to decrease them.

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Jacob Nelson

I’m very excited for this! One of the things that keeps me from going back to lotro is the idea of tiresomely having to gimp my character to keep encounters from being a snooze.

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Schlag Sweetleaf

.

hard row to hoe.gif
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Viktor Budusov

That’s exactly how it works :)

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Castagere Shaikura

So sick of this crap in MMOs today. The people that are complaining are the elite dungeon and raid runners that have all the best gear. Then they try to do content lower-level players are doing then going on the forums crying that it’s too easy. I am so sick of these players. This is happening on the ESO forums now too. They are the vocal minority claiming to speak for the whole player base. They better do a good job on that slider.

cambruin
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cambruin

Do you play LotRO? I do, not once did I set foot inside a raid or an endgame instance. Yet my guard, a tank class with no dps whatsoever, can easily take on 10+ mobs and walk away 95% of it’s hp. There’s a few zones where the ‘difficulty’ has been ramped up, but 9 out of 10 zones are actual snoozefests.

No, LotRO landscape is far too easy.

That being said, there’s quite a few ‘elites’ zones which the community just simply ignores. They ask for hard and meaningful content, yet they skip the elite parts, the conclusion of the regional quests because ‘too hard’ or ‘no one to group with’. Which is nonsense of course.

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Bruno Brito

That’s because of class design. Guardians dps by reactive parrying/blocking, so their skills are great to mow down weak groups.

You can’t mob on a minstrel. It’s entirely different on a class by class bases.

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Castagere Shaikura

I admit I played LOTRO some years ago so I don’t know how it is now. But I remember doing quest around the forsaken inn zone and getting my butt kicked.

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Robert Mann

I solo those constantly if I get on. Given the ability to run a T1 3 person by myself, when I decide to really challenge myself… I find it tough to enjoy anything less. I don’t raid, don’t have the best gear, but knowing how and squeezing through things is pretty common.

I did the same with ESO when it actually mattered. Was one of those who enjoyed beta VetR difficulties. It made you think and plan ahead, so of course people hated it (some fights were overtuned, but that was on specific bosses and not overall). Again there I used ingenuity to solo 4 man content (and once sat around in one of the few raids I hit there on the first boss after everyone else wiped, while they did bio, and had it halfway down from that point when people came back. Got a mix of “Holy cow!” and “Stop already so we can try again.”

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Ben Stone

I play ESO super casually, with super average gear, and agree that open world mobs could do with more challenge. If its optional why is that a bad thing?

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Bruno Brito

I’m all for you having options. As long as it doesn’t mess my own pace, have fun.

I actually think LoTRO’s idea is not that bad.

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Robert Mann

I actually complain about landscape being far too easy in most MMOs… while not wanting to force everyone to deal with higher difficulty.

Instead I’d like to see more variety in the world, and less focus on those raids and dungeons. At the least make them like a good D&D dungeon, with clever traps, multiple paths, etc.

Saluka
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Saluka

I don’t want the gameplay to be run in, get agro, cast 1-3 aoe spell and everything dies (yellow champ). Only prob is the taking too long to run around and some quests delibrately make you go back and forth.

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Bruno Brito

Honestly, i just think it’s class/leveling based. My Minstrel takes a hell of a while to kill things, while my hunter literally twoshotted everything. Maybe they just need to get on with all the class revamps and try to balance them for open world accordingly.