Friday, July 17, 2009

World of Warcraft Vs. Lord of the Rings Online!

Hey Everyone,

Ok, so this post isn't actually going to be as 'explosive' as my headline might suggest! I've wanted to jot something up about this for a while now but I've been plagued with the one thing that seems to cripple most writers and bloggers these days.

No not 'writer's block' - I wish it were that complicated! I'm talking about pure, bone-idleness! Curse my laziness, but rather than dwell on that let's kick this off.
I've been playing LotrO now for a couple of months, I have a level 26 Hobbit Minstrel and on the whole I've enjoyed my time in Middle Earth. My main game though is still World of Warcraft and ultimately in about a month or so I shall focus my efforts in WoW 100% and likely put aside LotrO.

Obviously as I've been playing I've been comparing LotrO against WoW. In many ways Warcraft does show how much polish it has compared to LotrO, those extra couple of years in development really do make WoW stand out as a MMO experience regardless of your actual opinion on recent changes to the game.

LotrO is still very much rough around the edges, the map is next to useless and the HUD feels rather clunky. Graphically it can be very nice, animations are good in places and there's some nice effects when you're 'morale' dips, I don't want to beat on LotrO too much because out of all the other MMOs I've looked at this one stands out as the best WoW alternative.
The point of my post here though is to lift out some ideas that I think Blizzard will 'adopt' into their next MMO. Let me say off the bat, I am well aware that other MMOs are bound to feature what I'm discussing (guild housing in Everquest for example) but since I know very little about those other games I shall stick to what I do know in LotrO.

So, what should Blizzard consider bringing into their next MMO project?

1) Guild Housing

In LotrO players can settle into a cosy home and make their mark on Middle Earth. Decorating your home will give it that unique touch you're after, though you must be able to afford the upkeep of your house else the hobbit baillfs will turf you out!!
If you're part of a Kin then a kinship home can be purchased which will provide you with a staging area outside to hold meetings and such. Both accommodation options will grant you personal vendors that offer up to 15% discount and a mailbox on your doorstep. You can also purchase safe boxes to add extra storage for all the junk you collect, and in my experience storage is precious!!

WoW players have been calling out for guild housing since forever, so I'm sure this is on Blizzard's radar. A place for guilds to mount their trophies and display their triumphs would be a great touch. Whilst LotrO does offer this feature it does not seem to boast what the WoW players are looking for, it comes across as Animal Crossing meets Middle Earth. Not a bad thing as such, but to be honest I've not invested in a house yet as I reckon the housing costs are too high! A recession in Middle Earth, bringing the housing market to its knees so my humble Hobbit can get on the property ladder, is required in my opinion :-D

2) Professions and Crafting

The Professions in LotrO do take a lot of effort to build up; right off the bat you're required to pull in resources picked up by professions you don't have. For example, as a Yeoman I have proficiencies in 'Cooking', 'Farming' and 'Tailoring'.

My farming does provide materials for my cooking, but to level my tailoring I need leather, which can only be boiled by other classes such as the Woodworker.

I actually found this quite frustrating when I got started but of course this is an MMO so is it really such a bad thing that this game pushes you to interact with people? That's a seperate argument, so to keep this on track let me move into what I do like about the professions in LortrO.

Each tier of crafting (you start as an Apprentice) can be filled twice over; and when you complete that chore you become a Master of that tier. Once mastered it is then possible for you to 'crit' when you make an object in that tier. For example, if you can craft a bow then with the mastery (and a special mat picked up) you have a chance to crit when you make that bow and add extra stats to the item.

This is a great way of creating interesting and different items. I like the idea of setting to work to create an item for someone and there being a chance that I could actually make a better item. It rewards your effort and drives you to complete each of the crafting tiers.

In WoW professions are quite straightforward and one weaponsmith can craft you pretty much what the next thirty can. Only unique patterns picked up in the world make any one person stand out, whilst in LotrO you have to work hard to forge your niche in the market. Ultimately this is only a small difference, after all when everyone is a master then nobody is unique but the idea is there and I think Blizzard could develop it further.

3) The Cosmetic Doll

Ok at the risk of sounding like a little girl, I actually really like this feature!!

We all know that when you are levelling through WoW you often look like a clown. Mismatched armour pieces can make you look like some sort of court jester but in LotrO you don't have to put up with such things!

In your character sheet you have two 'dolls' which you can dress up however you see fit. Then, simply choose the doll you like as your display and voila, your character is now running around in a tidy little outfit.

As long as your class can wear the gear (so no clothies wearing plate) then you are free to wear whatever you want. Your actual gear (stats etc.) is not affected as these are still technically worn, but your outward appearence can be customised to suit whatever look you're after.

So even as a high level raider if you really liked that cloth set you picked up at level 10 then you're free to strut around in that gear!

This adds a lot to the customisation of your character and that feeling of a unique look. In WoW people are often complaining that their gear makes them look like every other Tom, Dick and Harry in town (especially as picking up gear gets easier). I think this cosmetic doll is a great idea and I'd like to see something similar in WoW.

4) Group Combos

This is a tricky one for me to explain because in all honesty what I have seen of these in LotrO have been rather clumsy and awkward.

The idea is that when a party engages an elite mob there is a random opportunity for the fellowship to strike in conjunction. Players are presented with a coloured wheel and according to which colour you choose a particular combo will unfold.

My experience of this has been limited but not all that hot. Nearly everyone I've been grouped with has demanded that you simply 'hit the red one' - which should result in a big hit. On occasion this has worked ok and looked good (summoning giant demon things to strike your enemy looked cool) but more often than not I don't have a red button on my wheel so what am I supposed to do then?

I often feel as though I've let the group down because as a healer I'm not generally within melee range so my 'red' button is crossed out. Ahh well, it sort of works. The different colours on the wheel represent other opportunities, such as dealing damage over time, restoring Power (mana) or Morale (health).

I really do like the idea of this though, the party pulling together to deliver a devastating blow to the enemy you face, or buffing the group to turn the tide of a fight. Adding this to WoW could be awesome, especially if they could figure out how to make it that little bit more engaging. A less random element would help I think, for example have something like:
  • A Warlock casts a spell that begins the summoning of a great demon >>
  • A Priest channels their mana into the spell >>
  • A mage hurls a fireball into the catalyst to spark things off (maybe an icebolt brings up a new element.
  • The creature is formed and released into the mix
Sure the effort to produce something like this would distract from the main fight going down but if handled with the right level of cooldown I think this would look pretty awesome. That's a fairly simple idea as well, I'm sure the boffins at Blizzard could drum up something far more spectacular and interesting.

5) The Epic Storyline

I feel that LotrO handles its storyline very well, missions that relate to the story are highlighted as chapter quests and these also tend to be 'bookended' with a cutscene.

These cutscenes are short and sweet but they do pull you along with the narrative and relate the story of LotR very well. Imagine if Blizzard were to treat you to more cutscenes in their MMO! We have a hint of what they can do with the Wrathgate event in WotlK and that scene is fantastic. To be honest, I'd say that it was one of the most interesting things I've done in WoW so to see some more of their work would be a real treat.

Whatever Blizzard plans to do next I hope that they give their art & animation guys a chance to play with some more cutscenes and storytelling.

I'll wrap this up here, this article has babbled on for quite a while now! I'm sure there's plenty more out there I could pull into this discussion, maybe I'll revisit this some time.

In the meantime, I'd like to prompt anyone out there that is only playing WoW to go broaden your horizons. Sure WoW does things very well and Blizzard have a proven track record of innovating other people's ideas but there are games out there that are taking those first steps into something new so go jump on board and help them along.
I'd also like to say a big hello to any Rawrcast fans reading this, your support is much appreciated!

Cheers for reading,



xabbott said...

I've had a similar experience.

My highest level character is also around around 26 (Champion). I didn't end up liking the class and started a Minstrel. I believe I was two or tree levels away from continuing my epic quest line. So I had to go do some side quest which were horrible.

This is probably my second favorite MMO next to WoW.

Although, like WAR I find these games using a third party's IP limits developers more than it helps.

Although if you are into RP maybe it's more appealing.

Dalt said...

I agree with you. I played LotRO before WoW and although I prefer WoW I miss the features in LotRO you described.

Guild housing and a cosmetic clothing option would be very welcome - or at the very least armor dye.