With 530 posts here on Bio Break, nine years of coverage on both Massivelys, and 12 years of play, clearly I am a fan of Lord of the Rings Online. There’s something fulfilling and deeply enjoyable about this ongoing journey through Middle-earth that keeps me coming back to it. But even so, I would be the first to admit that one of its biggest — and yet largely unspoken by the community — flaws is that it is a very alt-unfriendly MMORPG.
That’s not to say people avoid making alts; plenty of folks do. Most of the ones I know personally play LOTRO as their only MMO, and so alts make sense for them. But whereas I have scads of City of Heroes alts, in LOTRO, I have less characters on the selection screen for all servers combined than I have fingers on a single hand. I just don’t make alts in this game.
Why is that? The primary reason is time and length. The journey through LOTRO is more or less linear: You progress through level-gated zones, led by an epic storyline that is tailored to take you through the right places at the right time. And since there isn’t a lot of options how you are going to progress, you’ll be doing the same thing with each character.
And that “same thing” is plowing through literally thousands of quests. LOTRO’s design is very quest-centric, with each zone and expansion adding hundreds of additional missions to keep the playerbase busy and happy. If you were doing those quests when they were released, then you probably experienced them at a measured pace, but that’s not how it goes for most people who haven’t kept up. They’ve been buried under loads and loads of quests that simply take a whole lot of time to get through.
LOTRO has good quests and some really great questlines — Bingo Boffin and the epic storyline in particular. But it also has filler coming out of its ears. There’s kind of this running joke in the game that the writers are desperate to milk out every last ounce of potential content from the source material that they keep players backtracking and making very tiny baby steps forward in their journey so that Frodo and Sam are running laps around them in comparison.
So here’s my thought today about the alt problem. When a player hits the level cap, it should trigger a second game mode that offers a much more streamlined leveling experience. I’m not talking about simply upping the XP (although that would be the easy and most probable method); I’m talking about paring down the obscene number of quests so as to only give players the most essential ones to complete in order to experience the key elements of the story and move more quickly through the world a second, third, or even seventeenth time around.
Another option would be for this “new game plus” would be to eliminate ALL side quests and level fully from the epic alone. Just increase the rewards and XP from the epic to compensate, and players could jet through the game at a much faster pace. If they’ve already done all of the flower picking and pie running on at least one character, why not let their alts have an easier time catching up?