Ever since 2009, I’ve loved skirmishes in Lord of the Rings Online. These were a new type of instance that rose to prominence in the Mines of Moria and Siege of Mirkwood era, offering players something a little more low-key and flexible than straight-up dungeon runs.one of those orphaned systems that litter many older MMORPGs. You see this a lot when devs are hot to trot about a system — for a while. But then their attention moves on to new shinies while players who genuinely like that older system are left in the lurch. The unfortunate thing here is that skirmishes are as good of an idea that LOTRO has ever had — and it’s time to dust them off and bring them back to glory.
A different way to dungeon
Skirmishes bucked the trend of the typical MMO dungeon, in which groups would make their way through a typically linear path that involved trash mobs and a series of bosses. Instead of this format, skirmishes attempted to create a dynamic-feeling experience where players could conquer a region or defend against waves of foes. Nothing fancy, but it added some variety to a stale format.
Even better, skirmishes offered a host of options and random challenges. Players could pick difficulty levels, encounter a range of special lieutenant mobs with their own hand-tailored abilities, and train up a helper soldier to assist them in this fight. Very ambitious players could take skirmishes up on extra encounters that would pop up — if they had the time to do them.
Additionally, skirmishes often took familiar locales — Bree, Weathertop, Gondamon — and presented them in a new light with war and weather patterns raging about them. It allowed the devs to jump around in the timeline, and to date, Trouble in Tuckborough is the closest we’ve gotten to the Scouring of the Shire.
Not only were some skirmishes tied into the epic storyline, but they delivered a lot of benefits to players who ran enough of them. On top of extra XP, skirms paid out in reputation and tokens, the latter of which could be redeemed for cosmetics and gear.
All in all, it was a well-thought-out system that had the potential to be expanded indefinitely, if the devs chose.
A call for revival
But the devs, by and large, didn’t choose. Skirmishes clearly fell out of favor in Turbine/SSG by Isengard, with the most recent, Rescue in Nûrz Ghâshu, coming back at the start of Volume III. Helm’s Deep attempted to create a larger version of skirmishes with the very mixed bag of epic battles, while the most recent iteration with on-demand instances have come with missions. Missions, while they have their place, lack the depth and reward structure of skirmishes, in my opinion.
This isn’t to say that skirmishes became completely orphaned. The devs allowed players to use their skirmish soldiers on landscape content (for a fee) a while back, and the periodic Ill Omens event crops up to encourage players to run these. And skirms scale in level up to 140 if so desired.
By and large, however, skirmishes haven’t been utilized well by the game over the past decade despite their continued popularity. I don’t want to speak for everyone here, but I consistently see people speaking fondly of the skirmish system in a way that they don’t with, say, epic battles. There’s a real potential here to kick off a revival without having to reinvent the wheel.
It wouldn’t have to be anything crazy, even. I’m talking about maybe introducing one or two new skirmishes, adding some new rewards to the skirmish camps, and maybe overhauling skirmish soldiers. LOTRO is exploring all sorts of possible expansion avenues for the future, and skirmishes might be a great way to dip into regions that the devs don’t want to commit to fully… just yet.
I’m just saying that MMOs don’t always have to come up with brand-new systems when they have perfectly good ones that are sitting in the back of a garage, waiting for developers to rediscover and repurpose them for the future. Skirmishes are sheer fun and one of the better additions to the game — and it would be amazing to see their return.