So I've been thinking about Lord of the Rings Online in regard to this and how it might benefit from a greater number of sandbox features in the future. I mean, on one hand we have one of the most "on rails" PvE games out there, but on the other hand there are seeds of great player freedom. Elements like the music system, the Winter-home theater, Hytbold, and the quite robust crafting system all serve to take us a step beyond the themepark.
But what if LotRO took a few more steps toward sandboxy goodness? Seeing as how the original vision for the game was to make it a pure sandbox, I think that's not too farfetched a question. Here are several sandbox features that I think if married to the game would add to its appeal and variety.
Ah yes, player housing. I've expended many words on the subject in this column, and the community's said even more elsewhere. The long and the short of it is that the system that's in the game might have been acceptable (if subpar) back when it first came out, but now it's a creaky relic that doesn't offer players true freeform creation, much interactivity, or much of a reason to visit your home (or anyone else's) at all.
We've been clamoring for a housing revamp for years now, a revamp Turbine's distanced itself from promising. I'm actually at the point that I think the entire housing system needs to be scrapped and then rebuilt from the ground up.
Why do I say this? Because I'm just rolling around in the ridiculously awesome new housing system in RIFT (aka Dimensions), and it's really everything that LotRO's housing should be. It's a full-featured toolset that allows players to be as creative as they want to be, it offers ways to make a house interactive and even a basic storytelling tool, and it's easy to visit other players' homes and rate them (or even mess around in them if the homeowner so desires).
LotRO's housing should be more than a museum for junk we've picked up over the years. It could be alive, and RIFT is a perfect example of that potential.
Player towns and camps
As we progress further into the war-torn territory in the game, it only makes sense to me to allow players as a community to claim, equip, and defend towns against the forces of Sauron. Not only does this make it a community project (socialization! Kinship activities!), but it could allow for so many sandbox elements.
Warriors could focus on manning the defenses and going out on patrols, builders could focus on creating new structures and adding cool weapons, crafters could open up a stall and hawk their wares, and roleplayers could mold the local tavern to their liking.
Alternatively, why not allow players to set up camps and temporary defenses out in the field? Not only would this be pretty cool from a RP perspective, but the developers could then make the game throw attacking mobs (such as warbands) against these makeshift fortresses. In that way, instead of the players going out to find trouble, trouble finds them!
The Frostbluff Theatre was a great addition to the game, and I always look forward to kicking up my heels there come Christmas-time. However, it's time to take this system further by offering players the tools to create their own plays.
It's here that I'll point to another recent release -- namely, The Secret World's Issue #4 and its pretty dang cool theater system. Players can find or buy props, backgrounds, and effects to create their plays, and that's exactly what LotRO needs. Really, why is this not in the game already? Players already put on their own plays and shows and would jump at the chance to do so with additional tools in a proper theater environment.
PvMP server or zone
I'm not in the camp that says "sandbox equals unrestricted overworld PvP," but I do think that it's a shame the PvMP system is being quarantined in LotRO instead of utilized to make a real impact on the game world. Putting players in monsters' shoes not only creates additional choices but could be wielded to great effect by making creep players part of the PvE content.
There are so many possibilities for this that it's hard to settle on just one. I acknowledge that any of them would be a balancing nightmare, although I think that a zone structured much like Warhammer Online's realm war areas would work just fine. Or what about an experimental PvMP server? Turn the entire world into a battleground by eliminating some of the PvE content (such as most of the quests) and allowing the two sides to capture towns, raid into traditionally "safe" territory, and undertake sieges?
Finally, I'm inspired by SOE's recent player studio system to suggest that we could benefit from something like this in the game. For better or worse, crafters are limited by preset recipes and cannot truly create something new and unique. But what if they could? What if they could take elements and forge them together to make the weapon they've always wanted to see in the game or a cool-looking new floppy hat?
I'm flexible on the monetizing of this; while SOE sees the player studio as a way for both the studio and player to make real money, I'd be perfectly OK with keeping LotRO's version strictly in-game currency only. What's important to me is that players would be given the keys to true crafting (within supervised limits, naturally) and could vastly expand the game's offerings.
What do you think about these suggestions, and what sandbox features would you like to see in LotRO?
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 email@example.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.