For this I have two words in response: hear, hear!
I've been thinking about this a lot since last week's imaginary restart scenario and even before. There's a reason that rerolling a character in Lord of the Rings Online has such appeal, even with a mountain of content behind it. It's a character that actually develops noticeably before your eyes, not slugs through content.
Today I want to examine why I agree with Holiday about the stagnation of high-level classes and how the devs can shake up the status quo to make character development exciting once more.
Holiday's pick of Moria as the dividing line between character growth and (for lack of a better term) character maintenance is one that has crossed my mind on many occasions. I've leveled two characters to 75, one to 50, one to 41, and several lower than that. And without a doubt, I was more invested in these characters during the first half of that journey than the second.
It's great fun during that early journey. Not only are you getting a heaping of story on your plate, but your character is growing in all sorts of great ways. You're gaining levels, gearing up, gaining virtue and trait slots, earning traits and virtues, hunting down legendary traits, getting your first legendary items, snagging your riding skill, growing into your build, investing into your skirmish soldier, and so on. Then, without you realizing it, you've hit a wall.
Once you hit around levels 50 to 55, your character becomes set in stone. You've reached the final step of your build, a build that will not need to change from here on out unless you switch to a new one. You have no more trait slots, virtue slots, or legendary trait slots to unlock. You already have pretty much every skill you'll be using through endgame even if it's a primitive version of what will come later. The legendary item system has gone from awesome to a mild buzz. Sooner or later, you'll realize that what you have now is what you'll probably have in 35 levels.
Turbine's added no new class traits other than the occasional reworking of an old one, and that is really bizarre when you consider how all other MMOs that push up the level cap create new talents to match. Instead, we just get a few incremental numbers and a paltry handful of skills (usually just upgraded versions of older skills) per expansion. The devs are instead investing in additional systems like LIs and combat mounts, although it doesn't quite address the class stagnation.
It's something that needs to be shaken up. Here are three ideas I have about how it could be done.
Idea #1: Tone back LIs, reinvest into the old character system
By the time Riders of Rohan hits us, we'll really have three separate character systems that ask us to scramble all over the place shaping our characters the way we want. I think the new mount system can get a pass from my critical gaze since it's for a specific area of gameplay and has its own easy-to-understand talent tree, but I'd like to see the team take an axe to legendary items.
I don't want to speak for everyone, but I'd be totally OK if LIs went bye-bye. At best, they're a great idea that turned out to be overly complex, grindy, and not at all the unique snowflake concept that it promised to be. If they can't be completely scrapped, they should be scaled back and simplified, and elements of character building that went into legacies should be reinvested back into the original character system (virtues and traits).
We need more virtue slots. We need more trait slots. We need more trait builds or advanced stages of current builds.
The way I see it, alts are a pure win-win all around. They keep players in games longer and give them new goals, all the while providing the studio with increased patronage and revenue. LotRO should give us great incentive to roll alts instead of making the mere thought of another character a shudder-inducing moment.
First of all, leveling really needs to be re-examined. Four expansions into the game is the perfect time for a studio to do this, and I'm not just talking about zone streamlining and giving us +XP% pocket items (although those are both helpful).
I've talked about this before in the past, but I'll say it again: Turbine needs to stop using the cash shop as the crutch for LotRO's painful leveling and simply make leveling less painful. Do a forum search for "grind" and start work from there. Reduce virtue grind. Reduce reputation grind. Make it way more easy and clear to attain the traits we need. I know revenue is a concern, but making players happy and keeping them loyal is going to help fill those coffers just as much as trying to bleed them dry every step of the way to 85.
And why not have fun with the concept of alts in LotRO? Star Wars: The Old Republic had a great idea with its legacy system, connecting a player's characters together and giving shared bonuses between alts. Steal that. Let us build a legacy of Middle-earth citizens that will endure to Mordor.
Idea #3: Challenge classes altogether
We haven't seen any new classes since Mines of Moria, and I'm starting to wonder whether we ever will. I'm sure it comes up in meetings from time to time, but it doesn't seem as if it's going to happen. Maybe there's a huge concern with perceived backlash with lore restrictions, I don't know. But there's got to be wiggle room, and I bet you that there would be more players trying out new classes than there would be whiners looking to dig up Rune-keepergate once more.
If we can't have a new class, LotRO should take a cue -- of all places -- from World of Warcraft. For the longest time, WoW was rigid in its class/race combos. It started to soften with The Burning Crusade when Shamans and Paladins were finally shared cross-faction. With Cataclysm, races that previously never had access to specific classes finally did. Personally, I think that is terrific. It's what LotRO needs in spades.
The game is so painfully skewed to the taller races that it's not even funny. Men get eight class choices, and Elves get seven. Dwarves and Hobbits, on the other hand, are limited to just five. Switching over to the class balance, Captains have only one racial representative, and Burglars, Lore-masters, and Rune-keepers two. But if you're a Hunter, Guardian, or Minstrel, well! There's no limit whatsoever!
It's a silly and fairly weak argument to keep certain races from rolling classes in this game just because the lore never specifically gives us an example. That Rubicon was crossed with Rune-keepers, if not from the very first day of the game, and it's time to get rid of such restrictions. Will it really ruin Tolkein's legacy to see a Hobbit Captain, Dwarf Warden, or an Elf Burglar running around? Will anyone, save for the fanatical purists, honestly care?
One final entry into this category is for the devs to allow us to change into a different class or co-train in two classes at high levels. We might get bored with the class but attached to the character and progress we've made. Why not let us switch over and try something different?
Pie in the sky ideas, maybe. But we all know there's power in pie, and I would love to see any one of these make it into the game in the future.
When not enjoying second breakfast and a pint of ale, Justin "Syp" Olivetti jaws about hobbits in his Lord of the Rings Online column, The Road to Mordor. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.