12 June, 2009
I wanted to talk a bit about one of the more interesting mechanics in LotRO: Dread and Hope. This is perhaps one of the more interesting mechanics the game has to offer above and beyond the typical DIKU fare. Since I slammed the game a bit for sticking a bit too close to "safe" mechanics, I figured I'd take some time to point out one of the original and interesting bits.
Don't worry, this isn't going to become a LotRO blog. I just tend to get hooked on themes a lot.
For those that haven't played LotRO, let me describe the mechanic. Dread/Hope are values a long a continuum, with Hope being good and Dread being bad. Hope will mitigate or cancel out hope, and vice versa; for example, 2 points of Dread and 3 points of Hope give you a final value of 1 Hope. For some reason, you don't get Dread or Hope directly, instead you'll see Radiance or Gloom and 10 points of these gives 1 point of Hope or Dread, respectively. For this post, I'll just use Dread or Hope.
As you gain Dread or Hope, five stats are affected: your maximum morale (hit points), healing effects, damage taken, damage dealt, and effective skill level. Having a lot of Dread means that you'll be effectively fighting as a lower level character. On the other hand, having a lot of Hope means you're fighting at a higher level of ability.
How do you get Dread? The most common way is by dying. Instead of a "resurrection sickness" effect, you get 1-4 points of Dread for 10 minutes depending on the location where you died. Higher level zones will have greater penalties, making it more dangerous to just leap back into combat after a defeat. Certain locations and bosses will also give you Dread. In many areas, a tall, smoking totem usually fills you with Dread, right before a boss tries to gnaw on you.
What about Hope? Some areas give you hope, notably the newbie areas. This means that at lower levels you'll get a bit of a boost. Some good NPCs will give you Hope, but they tend to be stationary and not all that useful on an adventure. The main ways to get Hope are through equipment, a buff by a specific Captain's Herald that affects all in range, and through Jeweler-created consumable items called Edhelharn Tokens that boost the whole fellowship. New players that sign up for a subscription can also get a special horn that can be used to give 1 point of Hope to the player, but it shares the same cooldown as the tokens.
What makes this mechanic interesting is that it's another value to manage. Dying gives you an effect you've already seen, so you may know how to handle it. Some group quest bosses can be made a bit harder by placing a gloomy totem nearby. But, players can work against the Dread by increasing their Hope. A jewelry crafter can bring a little extra bonus to a group by bringing some tokens.
I've considered a similar mechanic for games I called "comfort" that would have similar design goals. If you wanted to go explore the icy tundra, you should remember to have your character bring warmer clothes, otherwise comfort will decrease and reduce the character's effectiveness. This would reward people who plan ahead, and give some sense of adventure to places with extreme conditions. You could do lots of fun things with this, too. Perhaps characters could take an ability to let them ignore some levels of discomfort; the ability to soldier on despite hardship would be valuable for someone who wanted to visit the far reaches of the world.
But, all is not perfect with LotRO's system. One major complaint is the Hope requirement for many high-end raid bosses. In order to go on the highest level raids, you have to have enough Hope generated by your gear ("Radiance Gear") in addition to tokens and other benefits to counteract the Dread caused by the bosses. Going without is not an option, at the highest levels of Gloom, you have a small fraction of your hit points (20% or so, from what I've seen) and you'll take much more damage. This pretty much guarantees death to anyone who hasn't gotten enough Hope.
This heavy requirement for Hope on your gear causes two problems: First, a player must run various earlier instances and finish them in "hard mode" before an item will drop. Of course, only one token will drop that everyone needs to get their gear, so you'll have to run each instance multiple times for your chance to get the token. Second, it restricts what equipment you can wear to the raid. Want to gear for a slightly different spec? Too bad, because your Radiance Gear only comes in one flavor. This de-emphasizes the role of crafters at the highest levels It also makes the game feel very cookie-cutter at the high end without much variation between different players of the same class. These seem to be some of the biggest complaints on the official forums from what I've seen.
While it's not a perfect mechanic, it is something not found in other games. I think it's rather interesting, and I've enjoyed planning around situations where I had to deal with Dread. I'm not sure I'll appreciate having to build a specific set of equipment for the highest levels, but I'm not currently planning on doing a lot of raiding. We'll see how that goes when I get to it.
What do you think? Is this just another bit of stat-crunching that distracts from the other elements of what online games can be? Or is it an interesting mechanic that adds a new twist to traditional gameplay? Can the high end raids be changed to still use this mechanic but not require a specific set of gear in order to complete it?