10 September, 2009
Going to try a new concept this post: the extreme design makeover. I'm going to look at a system in an existing game and turn the designer's critical eye to it. I'll discuss the system, what the flaws are, and what some design concepts to improve the system might be.
Today, I'm going to take a look at LotRO's legendary item system.
The system, in a nutshell
Legendary items (sometimes also called legendary weapons, even though not all of them are weapons) are an alternate advancement system in LotRO. Every character can have two items, a melee weapon then a special class item (which could be a ranged weapon), that gain experience and levels. As items gain levels, they get points that can be spent on legacies for an item. Legacies affect the powers of your class by extending durations, increasing effect, reducing cooldowns, etc. For example, one of the most coveted legacies for the Champion class increases the damage done in the DPS stance by up to an additional 10%. Weapons are restricted to a specific class, and the legacies on the weapon enhance only the abilities of that particular class.
Items come in three rarities based on the "age" they were created in. Third Age items are common and least powerful, Second Age items are more powerful, while First Age items are the most powerful and rather rare. The more powerful items can gain higher levels, therefore allowing more points to spend, and have more legacies. Third age items get more powerful as the required level increases.
Legacies have two stats. Level indicates the effect of the legacy, with higher levels allowing for a bigger bonus. Level is increased by spending the points gained when the item increases in level. A legacy's tier indicates how expensive it is to raise a legacy's level.
Items are initially unidentified, so the legacies it has are unknown. Legacies are randomly assigned to an item, and they have random tiers to start. Every 10 levels, a legendary item must be reforged and can gain a new legacy (levels 10, 30, 50) or increase the tier of an existing legacy (levels 20, 40). The new legacy or legacy with increased tier is selected from 2 random legacies the player can choose from.
Finally, items also have three "relic" slots: setting, gem, and rune. Relics increase the stats of the character using the item. Relics are accumulated by deconstructing legendary items or by finding "sealed" relics as drops. Higher tier relics can be gained by combining 5 relics of a lower tier.
The first problem with the system is the randomness. While some randomness can add a bit of spice, it an also be a source of frustration. For some classes, there are a variety of abilities that are great additions. Getting a legendary item adds flavor to your abilities, making you slightly stronger in one area. For other classes, however, there is one must-have ability. As I mentioned above, the most desired ability for Champions is one that increases bonus damage in the main damage stance. No other legacy is going to increase damage as much. But, most champion items don't have this legacy. You might want to increase the level of the legendary item in order to see if it gains this legacy, but that becomes a significant grind. Even if you find an item with that legacy or an item that gained the legacy during a reforge, it may have a low tier and therefore be much more expensive to advance. In other words, it becomes a total crap shoot.
The other big problem, in my opinion, is that this system takes the emphasis off of player-crafted goods. Until recently, players could only craft Third Age items for a significant cost. Given that Third Age items were already fairly common, they were not in high demand. In addition, the crafted items were unidentified and could have completely crap legacies. All that effort invested for nothing. (The most recent patch added recipes to craft "Reforged Second Age" items for a higher cost, but this means that only one recipe out of a few dozen is really worthwhile to make for others.)
Further, there is no reason to use a regular weapon when there are legendary weapons to improve. The increases from the legacies are so powerful that regular weapons cannot compete. In addition, relics add better stats than can be found on most regular weapons as well. So, any two-handed weapon, in particular, becomes useless. One-handed weapons are only useful for the few classes that can use off-hand weapons, since legendary weapons can only be wielded in the main hand.
The most direct way to fix the system would be to separate out legacies from the items themselves. Instead of having the legacies be part of a weapon, allow them to be slotted in the items similar to the way relics are slotted (or, for you WoW players, the gem system in that game). This would provide a lot more flexibility in weapon design, where some weapons might have nice stats but only one or two legacy slots, where other weapons might have nothing but a bunch of legacy slots. Relic slots might likewise be limited on a weapon, with more available at higher levels.
Instead of getting unidentified weapons as drops, players would get unidentified legacies for a particular class. Once identified, the legacies could be put into a weapon and advanced with the weapon's experience. The tier of a legacy could be improved by reforging a weapon at certain level, or higher tiers could be found in more challenging situations. By having legacies come from drops, you still have a powerful incentive to do instances and raids to improve your gear.
Crafted weapons would fit well in this system. Players could craft a variety of weapons, from starter weapons with a few slots to a fully customizable weapon with few built-in stats and lots of slots. Crafted items (and even quest rewards) could once again compete with instance drops and not feel worthless. Two-handed weapons from crafting or quest rewards would be more than something to sell for a bit more silver than other items.
Could legacies be removed from a weapon? That might be an interesting addition to the system, allowing legacies to be reclaimed by deconstructing a weapon. I think restricting it so that legacies above a maximum tier (say 4 out of a maximum of 6) could not be removed from a weapon would be interesting. This allows a player to build up a nice selection of legacies, but they are limited unless they want to commit some legacies to the weapon and hope they don't find a better weapon later.
Finally, have the relics that give stat boosts be craftable by players instead of by deconstructing a item. For example, jewelers or scholars could make the gem relics, metalsmiths or weaponsmiths could make settings, and woodworkers or tailors could make the runes. Perhaps allow the trades that can only make a limited number of legendary items (like scholars or metalworkers) get access to better relics. Each trade could make a specialized set of relics to get everyone involved.
Changes already announced
With the recent Siege of Mirkwood mini-expansion, it was announced that players would be able to craft legendary items. Since players can already craft items, the wording of a previous announcement lead some people think this means you'll have more control over the legacies. The details have not been announced, but this could also take steps toward reducing the complete randomness of legendary items and give more emphasis to player crafting.