Endgame freedom?

Spinks the Wise has a nice rambling post up about hitting the level cap in LotRO, which reaches a surprising but very insightful conclusion: “It’s amazing how free you feel once you decide that you don’t want to get tied into the endgame grind.”

That made me rock back in my chair a little. What a concept: reaching the endgame and then…  enjoying the world. No badge grinds for gear, stat upgrades, LFD or PUG raiding.  Just fishing, crafting, noodling around.

For this approach to work, the game has to support that kind of play. And it sounds like LotRO does exactly that, with a combination of epic lore based book quests, virtues and deeds, and the well received skirmish system (that scales the same content from solo to raid groups).

“Go play a single player game” you might argue. But one of the attractions of an MMO is chatting away to friends online whilst you noodle. And MMOs have the huge advantage of being an ever (slowly) changing landscape – each new addition to the game gives new content to explore and share. This is especially true in LotRO, where the new content advances the Fellowship storyline.

If you’re not tied up in endgame progression and ‘keeping up’, MMOs allow you to  park your toon for a while then come back when some new content is offered up. DLC can offer some of that for single player games, but the sharing and social aspects aren’t there.

Between Spinks’ post and Syp’s re-entry into Middle Earth, LotRO sounds very tempting. My gamer group tried it briefly once, but quickly retreated back to Warcraft, mainly due to not having the energy to reinvest in a new MMO. But the Spinks perspective is enough to make me consider rolling around Hobbiton solo-MMO style. If it was free-to-play I’d be in there now, but committing to a sub takes a bit more consideration – and I can’t turn off WoW, I’ve got to keep up 😉

Numbers or Names?

Does anyone else find having a goal of reaching 542 defence rating less interesting than a goal of obtaining gear such that you become The Uncrittable? Or obsessing over a 164 Expertise rating instead of being The Finisher? I know I’d rather be aiming for an Undeniable set bonus than two pieces of something rated 264.

Surely it would be possible to design a game so that the numbers are more hidden, at least to the casual masses. EJs will still want to min-max based on figures, but I’d be surprised if the majority wouldn’t prefer titles or visual indicators once they reached certain milestones.

Achievements allow that in a way. You can see each step to Epic for example, so why not also have some non-numeric means of letting people see their progress toward key statistical milestones.

It could be something like the paper doll that shows when your gear is broken – but instead of showing damage, it shows how close each piece is to the magical goals. It would get pretty complicated with all the myriad stats, but with the coming Cataclysm stat simplification, surely it would be possible.

I’d bet the vast majority of the player base would have no idea that their are certain numeric goals for each stat. Which leads to fail PUGs and finger pointing. But if you could work it so that it was more obvious, and more intuitive, then more players would be at least equipped well enough to hold their own.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy crunching spreadsheets, working out gear rankings, and planning upgrades. But all of that work is a meta-game, and it’s all for the minority of players. Better to put the basics in game,  make it visual so people can see what they’re aiming for, and reward players for reaching those goals.