Lore/Story-tellingLore is important to me. I want the game world to be believable and for there to be a good reason why we're being asked to do certain things - actions should be meaningful. I want NPCs to have histories so that we feel like we get to know them and can sympathize with their decisions and actions - we don't have to always agree with them but it's good to understand them, whether they're the good guys or the villains. I like discovering lore out in the world - a hidden shrine in a remote area, a sword lying around with a poignant inscription, a diary of an NPC's last days ... I think lore and story-telling is key to what makes a game feel like more than just a game.
Note: * = poor, ** = ok, *** = great
|LOTRO||***||Tolkien created an amazing world|
|World of Warcraft||***||Azeroth is really well-developed|
|RIFT||**||Factions have lost meaning|
|Guild Wars 2||**||If you skip the Personal Story you skip most of the lore|
|Path of Exile||*||Wraeclast has history, but it's mostly peripheral to the game|
Both LOTRO and World of Warcraft have a significant literary collection of works supporting them and it shows in-game. The story is important, the characters are important, the factions have distinctive cultures and histories. These games are really immersive.
Questing/LevelingUnless you power-level and reach max level in a matter of days, characters will be spending a significant portion of time leveling. This is where your character develops and learns about the world and their role in it. Sure there is going to be some repetition and grind but the journey should still be enjoyable and smooth. It's frustrating when there are roadblocks or sudden changes in difficulty/gear requirements etc in the leveling process. Replayability with alternative characters should also be considered - if the leveling process is super-linear it's not as much fun doing it the second or tenth time around.
|LOTRO||**||There are some awkward transitions with expansions|
|World of Warcraft||**||There are some awkward transitions and heirloom gear has a huge impact.|
|RIFT||***||You can scale character level up or down and have lots of freedom where to level|
|Guild Wars 2||***||You can scale character level down for lots of freedom where to level.|
|Path of Exile||*||While the zones themselves vary, the process is very linear and progress can be halted if you don't have the right build/gear.|
The major hurdles for LOTRO I think are the introduction of legendary weapons with Moria and the introduction of mounted combat with Rohan. At some levels of the game there are limited options about which zones to quest in, so it can get repetitive, but there are other ways to level such as skirmishes, dungeons and big battles, which helps.
For World of Warcraft, some classes have a gear transition around level 40 where they go from wearing leather to mail or from mail to plate armour. This means they may not be wearing the ideal equipment for the content. It's pretty much always been that way so the leveling experience is designed with that in mind, but it's still an awkward and unnecessary transition. Heirloom gear has had a huge impact on leveling and can make it difficult to play with other people not wearing heirloom gear because the rates of experience gain is so different. People with heirloom gear very quickly out-level the zone they are in long before they finish the quest-line.
RIFT and Guild Wars 2 both have great character scaling technology which creates a lot of freedom while levelling and offers lots of different experiences for alternative characters. RIFT has instant adventures and zone events and Guild Wars 2 has dynamic events which give that massively multiplayer feeling but the player can still come and go as they please.
Character DevelopmentWe all want to be special snowflakes and feel like our character is unique. Cookie-cutter builds may be the most efficient way to make a character as powerful as possible, but having the freedom to experiment and try different builds without being too disadvantaged is a good thing.
Right back at the character creation screen, it's good to have different hairstyles and body types to represent our avatar. Appearances matter - we'll be staring at these characters for hundreds of hours potentially and we want them to be pleasing/amusing/horrifying to look at - and nobody wants a game full of clones. Wardrobe systems with a variety of armour, weapons and colours to choose from is also pretty much expected nowadays.
|LOTRO||***||Good wardrobe/appearance system, variety of builds possible|
|World of Warcraft||**||Good transmogrification system, builds have limited variety|
|RIFT||***||Great wardrobe and character build systems|
|Guild Wars 2||**||Good wardrobe system, variety of builds possible|
|Path of Exile||**||Poor character appearance options, huge variety of builds|
LOTRO and RIFT have the best wardrobe options as the appearances are not bound to gear items - you can upgrade your gear without disrupting your outfit.
Path of Exile has a very deep passive tree plus the skill gems and random stats on gear and the presence of uniques with special effects means there is huge freedom in creating a character build. Guild Wars 2 offers quite a few options with different specialisations and how changing weapons changes your skillset. World of Warcraft has almost eliminated variety of builds with their current model of talent trees - it really epitomises the cookie-cutter builds - "if you play this spec, take this option, this and this". I still wish WoW would bring back the old talent trees with depth and breadth of choice, and I know a lot of people feel like that about LOTRO too.
CraftingI love crafting and making my own armour and weapons in-game. It is generally my prime reason for creating alts - so I can cover all the crafting professions. I also like collecting resources myself - when I go questing with others, they'll often see me go darting off the path, maybe with a "ooh, shiny" as I spot some ore or herbs I need for crafting.
|LOTRO||***||Can often choose from range of stats|
|World of Warcraft||**||Good gear gated by recipes/materials from raids|
|RIFT||**||Good gear gated by recipes/materials from cash shop/raids|
|Guild Wars 2||**||Don't like discovery system, good XP, lots to make|
|Path of Exile||*||Very RNG dependent, Masters help alleviate this a bit|
LOTRO has my favourite crafting system. It's not perfect and could use some improvements, but it has a good foundation with the processing methods to quickly level up and recipes are available automatically when achieving a skill level or as drops or from factions and festivals. Being able to choose from several stat options for the same recipe is good - prevents having a huge long list of recipes to sort through to find the one you want. And every profession can make items useful at max level so crafting remains relevant.
World of Warcraft and RIFT makes most recipes available, but some are gated behind raids or the cash shop. Gating crafting behind a cash shop really annoys me - I think that crafting should be a core part of the game not an extra you have to pay for.
Guild Wars 2 has a huge long list of recipes and many of them have to be "discovered" by combining ingredients and checking if it makes something. This seems like a waste of materials to me. But, crafting can can help with levelling (provides reasonable XP) and unlocking appearances for account-wide wardrobes and achievements.
SurprisesFinding unexpected items or experiences when you go off the beaten track adds a lot to a game's interest factor. Exploring and discovering unexpected treasure or challenges can provide many hours of enjoyment at any stage of the game.
|LOTRO||**||There are hidden tidbits of lore throughout Middle Earth|
|World of Warcraft||**||They've recently started adding hidden treasures to find|
|RIFT||***||Artifacts and lots of achievements for exploring|
|Guild Wars 2||***||Lots of achievements for exploring|
|Path of Exile||**||Random subzones are a nice surprise. Maps offer lots of mystery.|
RIFT and Guild Wars 2 again are both great places to explore, with lots of hard to get to places, jumping puzzles and items to find and collect from across the world.
LOTRO and World of Warcraft tend to have more items that provide those geek-out moments when you discover something awesome from the books or lore that you didn't expect would actually be in-game. There are some very poignant shrines or memorials for NPCs, game developers and players that make you stop and think, "wow that sounds like someone special I would like to have known".
Surprises like random subzones, maps and treasure chests with random attributes, and the appearance of rare mobs is what helps break up the monotony of playing through the same zones over and over in Path of Exile.
CombatI'm not a fan of some of the modern action-oriented combat systems with complicated combos or super-fast reaction times required. I don't play console games and I don't want my PC games to have the same kind of controls. I like having lots of different abilities and choosing the right one for the situation. I like having a sequence and getting into a rhythm and watching a mob's health go down while I keep mine up. I don't like being punished with being one-shot if I don't get out of the way fast enough, although sometimes it is necessary to teach you what to look out for, so you can improve and avoid that attack in future.
|LOTRO||***||Traditional MMO style combat|
|World of Warcraft||***||Traditional MMO style combat|
|RIFT||***||Traditional MMO style combat|
|Guild Wars 2||***||Skill swapping and blocks/dodges makes combat fun|
|Path of Exile||*||Mostly involves spamming 1-2 abilities|
By traditional MMO style combat I mean having a full toolbox to choose from - lots of abilities and action bars and using the right ability at the right time. I mean having the typical trinity of dps/tanks/healers (and support who may be a hybrid or swap roles as needed). This is what I'm familiar with and enjoy.
Guild Wars 2 has less abilities available at a time, but having to choose which abilities are available is an interesting choice. Being able to swap weapons in combat is great - it makes sense to use a bow or rifle from range and then swap to a sword or axe when the mobs are close, and each weapon has appropriate skills. Again, choosing which weapons to equip is an interesting choice. Blocking abilities are very useful but need to be saved for the right moment. Dodging out of the way is basic compared to in some of the MMOs, but it's not too difficult to learn and adds another option for reacting to a situation. I don't really like the reviving in-combat and downed state mechanism - I prefer the traditional "once your down, your down" and you have to run back and try again (unless there is a limited in-combat rez available) rather than getting a second or third chance but getting weaker each time, but in some zones, waypoints are so far away it could be difficult to get back to the area.
End-gameWhat do you do when you reach max level? What keeps you playing the game or playing the same character? For me, I like working towards achievements, visiting content I missed while I was leveling up, maximising my crafting skills and finding challenges to overcome - which might be in max-level zones, soloing old raid bosses or elite mobs. I enjoy taking part in large-scale zone events too. I used to raid and do dungeons but now I don't want to be committed to achieving a certain gear level and doing homework on boss fights and being available at a certain time for a certain length of time - that seems like more work than fun to me. Also, I've been in a few great guilds and I've been in a lot of bad guilds with drama, or no-one talks or the guild slowly dies because there is nothing to hold it together and people keep quitting. So now I don't bother with guilds much - to be social I'll take part in zone events or join in the chat channel discussion or offer to help someone who is having difficulty or is new.
|LOTRO||**||Finishing achievements, improving legendary weapons, dungeons, raiding, skirmishes, big battles, roving threats/warbands|
|World of Warcraft||**||Finishing achievements, world bosses, dungeons, raiding, PvP|
|RIFT||**||Finishing achievements, zone events, dungeons, raiding, PvP|
|Guild Wars 2||**||Finishing achievements, zone events, fractals, dungeons, raiding, earning mastery points, earning ascended/legendary gear, PvP|
|Path of Exile||**||Finishing achievements, maps|
Most MMOs offer similar sorts of activities at max level. For LOTRO, improving your legendary weapon is the main form of progression. For RIFT it is completing your planar attunement, for Guild Wars 2 it is increasing your mastery rating. For World of Warcraft, raiding and especially mystic raiding for world rank is pretty much the pinnacle. For Path of Exile, completing harder and harder maps and defeating Uber Atziri is the end-game - but just getting to max-level is very difficult - careful character planning and gear and skill choices are required.
I'm not going to rank them and say that one game is better than others because that's not how I see it. They each have their strengths and weaknesses and I enjoy each game for different reasons. Since this is a blog about LOTRO, I think it appropriate to summarise some of what I like about it:
Good Aspects of LOTRO:
- Story/Environment - Tolkien has designed an amazing world with so much history and lore that comes through in the game and creates a really immersive environment most of the time.
- Character Development - You can create a good looking character and have lots of options for changing your appearance. You have choices about how to build your character so you can focus on being really good at one thing or reasonable at multiple activities if you wish.
- Crafting - It's easy to level up a crafting profession if you have enough raw materials and then you have access to a range of recipes, often with stat variations.You need to join a crafting guild and gain enough reputation with them to make legendary items, but it's worthwhile and all professions can make useful items for end-game players.
- Combat - the combat system will feel familiar to people familiar with other MMOs and there are generally a variety of abilities available to deal with different situations. Each class has a more-or-less unique feel to it.