Wednesday, 4 February 2009


Legendary warriors in fact and fiction have often wielded unique weapons, usually swords, which sometimes become as famous as their owners: El Cid’s Tizona, Charlemagne’s Joyeuse, King Arthur’s Excalibur, Roland’s Durendal, Beowulf’s Naegling, Elric’s Stormbringer… and of course, Orcrist, Anduril and Sting. So Turbine’s announcement that legendary weapons would play a major role in the Mines of Moria LOTRO expansion was greeted with justifiable enthusiasm; according to the official release, "Players will be able to forge weapons and class-related equipment and evolve them to build a legacy the likes of Bilbo's Sting and Gandalf's Glamdring. These legendary weapons will level-up along with the player, allowing customization by advancing the item's virtues, adding runic legacies, modifying its titles and forming fables".

The reality proved somewhat different. What we have now is interesting, but a legendary weapon system it ain’t. What we have is several hundred different legendary items of three different kinds; in order of increasing rarity (and value), these are Third Age, Second Age and First Age legendary items, all of them class-specific and of several different types. Furthermore, Third Age legendaries can be of user levels 51-60, Second Age legendaries can be of user levels 53-60, and First Age legendaries span user levels 59-60. For each player class, age and level there is a sword, dagger, club, spear, hammer, bow and crossbow, plus all the class special items such as burglar’s tools. You do the math.

Third Age items drop like flies, and are virtually given away with cereal boxes – not very legendary. On the other hand, Second Age items are extremely rare, while you can virtually forget First Age stuff. Another factor which players have come to realise is that user level is critical, almost more so than age; a user l.60 Third Age weapon is virtually as good as a Second Age weapon of user l.58 with roughly equivalent legacies. What this means in practice is that a very rare l.55 item may turn out to be little more than vendor trash.

As now implemented in LOTRO, legendary items (LIs) are essentially a running crap shoot, an exercise in gambling. You gamble on winning a roll and getting a good drop (imagine winning a 1:12 Vile Maw roll and receiving a l.59 First Age club!), you gamble on your LI having half-decent legacies, you gamble every time you reforge, you gamble on improving your runics… Somebody on the forums has worked out exactly how many Third Age LIs you would have to deconstruct in order to end up with six tier 8 runics, three for each of the two LIs you can equip; believe me, you don’t want to know the numbers. And you will carry on gambling, because by its very nature the system always sets a new goal: get a higher user level item, get a Second Age item, get a First Age item, then get a better yet First Age weapon.

Turbine’s developers have devoted a lot of ingenuity to devising a very complex, reasonably effective (in its own way) system of grinding in order to constantly upgrade your LIs – and yes, it can be fun, and it gives you something to strive towards after hitting the level cap of 60. Unfortunately, in the process they seem to have lost sight of what a legendary weapon actually means. A legendary weapon becomes part of you, remains identified with you for better or for worse; you would no more throw it away than cut off your hand. Can you imagine Aragorn casually chucking away Anduril because, uh, that dwarf arms dealer seems to be selling a cooler sword?

I currently carry a reasonably nice l.58 Second-Age bow with about 865,000 experience points on it. It’s called Preacher, we’ve been together for a long time now, I’ve managed to put some decent sixth-tier runics on it… and first chance I get of finding, buying or stealing a l.60 Second-Age bow with a half-decent set or legacies, out it goes, deconstructed and as much of its experience as possible re-routed into the new bow. Not very legendary, I know, but there it is.

It’s too late now to tinker with the system, so we’re stuck with it. But it would be nice if, perhaps with the next volume, the developers came up with an another crack at the problem. Here’s what I suggest: make the player’s choice of a new legendary weapon the reward for a long, hard quest or even quest chain. There should be no different ages or levels: just starter legendaries, all of the same level, and the player could pick whatever he or she fancies – sword, dagger, bow or whatever – as well as the starter legacies. Then use the existing system of weapon experience points to build up weapon experience, exchangeable for different improvements at various levels, leaving as much of it as possible to the player’s discretion. That’s it: that’s your new, truly legendary weapon, yours forever, growing along with you. No second choices, no exchanges. How about it?


Jaxom92 said...

I had thought the Legendary system would be more along the lines of what you propose at the end of your post.

I think what we have is an excellent system for an MMO. It's compelling, it's accessible, it's long-winded. But what makes this a near-perfect MMO mechanic destroys the concept of legendary as we know it via Sting, Anduril, etc.

I honestly don't think such a system as you propose is as good for the *game* side of LOTRO. For the lore side, certainly. I've found that Turbine seems to error on the side of the game and keep as much of the *spirit* of the lore as possible. So, the legendary weapon system as it stands now pays homage to the idea of the legendary weapons in the IP, but in reality is simply a game mechanic carrying all the associated baggage.

Kairos said...

I take your point about the tension between game mechanics and the lore, and agree that Turbine is probably wise to lean towards game mechanics; I actually tend to be fairly middle-of-the-road where the lore is concerned. But I also think that in this case, the devs became so fascinated by the mechanics of the system they were building they rather lost sight of the purpose.

To my mind, the single biggest problem with the legendary item system as it now stands is the unnecessary division into three age groups. I still think that a possible compromise solution might have been to get rid of the three groups, give everyone a 'starter' item of the same level, and then by all means implement the current method of upgrading.