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  1. #1

    Musings and Examination of Itemization in the Helm's Deep Expansion

    One of my favorite things in MMO RPGs is loot. Understanding a loot and scaling systems and using it to your advantage as a player can help you outperform your peers and distinguish yourself. LOTRO has been a game I've played for quite a while and seen it move though a few different expansions and game strategies.

    When Moria was released, we saw a rapid increase in item potency, and then for a long time after that, until Helm's Deep in fact, item potency did not significantly increase. It made a somewhat steady but not radical increase, and by level 85 the motivation to upgrade items was not very strong.

    With the release of Helm's Deep, we saw some big changes. In my opinion, some of these changes are great, and some are not. I'm going to take a look at each each area and give my thoughts. It's a bit long, but you may find some interesting thoughts or things you didn't know

    Item Potency

    One of the biggest, and perhaps most obvious changes in Helm's deep was the massive scale increase in item level as items moved to level 95. Suddenly a purple item could easily outpace a teal a level or two apart, something that we have never seen in lotro. Where as in the past, item levels generally traveled just ahead of player levels, offset by 10-20. At level 85, the highest item level we ever had (the gold items) was 102, 17 item levels above our level. At level 95, almost every item is item level 176, a full 81 item levels over our level.

    Taken by itself, I think that this is a good change, but I'm not sure it needed to be so severe. Getting new items is a major motivator to players, shiny things are where its at, and having new items that are only a tiny bit better than your old gear isn't much of a motivator.

    I can imagine that the itemization system designers wanted to accomplish a couple things with this change.



    • Encourage people who had very good gear in the past to upgrade, which this totally succeeded at.
    • Make quest rewards more attractive, which it did.
    • Create a level platform for content design (I'll talk more about this below)


    This had a side effect however, a very serious one. While item potency increased dramatically, scaling formulas for the rest of the game did not.

    The Great Stat Flatten

    So putting aside for a moment the major potency increase, there was another major change to LOTRO itemization, stat flattening.

    What stat flattening is, to put it simply is that any given player will have almost exactly the same stats as any other player.

    In the past, this was not the case in LOTRO to the extent it is now. Players had lots of options when it came to gear, many different ways to build their character. If they wanted to sacrifice damage for survival they could. If they wanted to focus critical hits over morale, it was totally possible. This is no longer the way of LOTRO itemization, at least to the extent it was, and I think its a major blow to the game.

    Every item now at level 95 always dedicates most of its budget to your primary stat and vitality, 217 of the primary and 186 vit, unless your primary stat is vit, then its reversed.

    A quick primer for those who aren't into itemization as much as I am. In LOTRO items have fixed budgets for stats. A Teal item has 35 points, a Purple item 30. The item also has an item level which determines how much each piece of the budget yields of a stat, in the past, these were hidden from view, but now for some reason, they are proudly displayed, a change which I like, giving the player more information is always good.

    A level 95 teal item, which has 35 points is spending 25 of those points on items the two fixed stats (15 to your primary, 10 to your secondary), and relegates the remaining 10 points to secondary stats: Crit, Mastery, Finesse, Fate, Block, Evade, Parry, Morale, and so on.

    Before Helm's Deep, items weren't subject to this fixed point system in such a large degree. While items did have general limits on the amount of a stat they could have, usually never more than 20 points were budgeted to any single stat, And it seemed that only 10 points of a stat had to be allocated to the intended classes main stat instead of the 25 that seemed to have forced allocation today. We could have items with mostly fate, or a lot of crit and morale, but less of your main stat.

    Another change was that in the past, purple, and yellow items almost always had lower item levels than their teal counterparts. That is no longer the case, in fact every single item in the game at level 95 is item level 176, from yellows to golds. Crafted teals used to be less potent than instance teals because of the item level, instance loot was always that with the best item level.

    So why do this flattening on multiple fronts? It's simple. It makes content much much more easy to design (no one will have more of the stat than a very fixed number), and makes content accessible to everyone.

    As changes go to the itemization system of LOTRO, this is my least favorite. It makes every player cookie cutter, and the choices of gear obvious. It also has annoying mathematical flaws. For example, my Runekeeper has so much vitality, that his mitigation are capped at 40%. My normal solution to this would be to lower my vitality and increase my morale or some other stat, as I would have done in the past. However, I can't do that. There is no on-level gear that will allow me to solve that problem, despite the hundreds of pieces that were added for Helm's Deep.

    It is quite possible to design content around stat formulas, and LOTRO for a bit was heading in this direction, with its Tier 1 and Tier 2 design. But for various reasons (namely a lack of reward progression at low tier, and a tendency of a lack of groups forming for tier one content), it hasn't been totally successful.

    A Second Age For Free!

    Another interesting part of the stat flattening is the basically giving away of second age symbols. They take at most a week to earn though normal play, and one is given as the cap to the epic quest. Third age weapons are now delegated to fodder for stat harvesting, or for those who play very casually - people in the past who may not have even used their LIs much at all.

    I really didn't like this change. A second age weapon should be something that you have to work for; something that takes weeks to earn, I shouldn't have had one the day I turned 95. At 85, it took me a good four weeks to get my second age symbol, doing raid skirmishes with my kinship, and getting new gear all the while. It was fun. Being handed one didn't really seem to me like it was worth much.

    The Oddities of Scaling Items

    If you have happened to take a low level character into a big battle, you have probably noticed that your items were scaled up to level 95, specifically to item level 176. I took my level 75 hunter into a battle, and I had well over 4000 agility. What!? That's crazyness! That's because in the past in order to make items more potent, you could get up to 20 points of a stat on them. That 122 will item from level 75 is now rampaging 372 will item.

    You may wonder why scaled characters rampaging across the wasteland of Big Battles? The answer is simple. Legendary items, which is where most of our damage comes from, are not part of the scaling system, quite possibly because a scaled 75 hunter with good gear would well outperform a real 95 hunter with flattened stat items if their legendary items were the same.

    This scaling system is part of the reason stats had to be flattened on items, Because if they weren't, some players could be so powerful due to the radical item level scaling that no mater what designers did, content would only be accessible to a small portion of the player base, something that LOTRO has been trying very hard to overcome.

    Since ROR, there has been a big push in ensuring that content is accessible to all, or at least most, levels. This by itself makes sense. The LOTRO population isn't large enough to sustain development across the range of levels anymore, and there's not much value in creating content that only a few can enjoy. It doesn't sell content. There's still new content being created for folks at cap, but its limited to quests really.

    Why Is Everything So Easy?

    If everything had been status quo in the world of LOTRO itemization, our DPS should have increased about 20%, and landscape mobs potency should have also increased about 20%. This would have made School at Tham Mirdain the same loveable instance it always was - you needed something like a tank, and something like a healer.

    In actuality though, our DPS skyrocketed. A decent part of it came from the class tree rework, but a fairly large part came from the nearly 50% increase in item potency we all experienced.

    For tactical classes, things are a bit easier to understand than DPS classes. A 1 point increase in the tactical damage rating means 1% raw increase in our damage, before the damage added by our Will.

    A level 85 second age, max upgraded is +79.79. A level 95 Second age tops out at 165.67, meaning a raw damage increase for tactical classes of 85%. For comparison, The difference between a 75 and 85 was 23, the difference between 65 and 75 was 33.

    The whole scaling system of LOTRO, the enemies, the gear, stats, is all designed around diminishing returns. Let's take a look at a common mob, a White Hand Leader, from the 3-man School at Tham Miradin. Let's look at its morale, a kind of easy indicator of a mob's potency.



    • Level 75 - 14083 - 65% increase (over 65) vs 33% Tat Damage Increase on LI
    • Level 85 - 22473 - 59% increase vs 23% Tat Damage Increase on LI
    • Level 95 - 32573 - 44% increase vs 85% Tat Damage Increase on LI


    Because this scaling formula didn't change with the far more potent items, this made all mobs in the game, at every level, far too easy. This algorithm that scales mobs controls landscape mobs (that don't look like they scale but they do), and all instance mobs in scaling content.
    Just change the formula! No, hold on.These formulas really should have been adjusted. In order to hold the line, that level 95 mob I was just speaking of should have about 56000 morale. Then it would be a lot more like what we knew of the instances at 85.

    If it was that easy, the very smart folks who design this game would have just done it. But its not.

    While I can't say I know the exact motivations, I can offer a suspicion: Trait Trees. Right now trait trees are not balanced, they are all over the place. While a fire RK can push out 5k DPS, a lightning RK can push out 3, a hunter can push out 6. Rather than make it obvious that there are clear unbalances, if everything dies so rapidly and is so easy there's no problem. If I can kill a mob in 3 hits and someone else in another class takes 2 because they have 30% more DPS, you won't notice, it died so fast! But if I can kill a mob in 20 hits, and they can kill it in 12, you start to ask why. You start to get a little sad. You go play another game. No one wants that. Its easier if we all win!

    Who needs another 50 Will when you have 3600?

    Another aspect of where the system isn't quite working out is stats that are granted in places besides items. This includes virtues, of which the three extra of a stat granted by increasing a virtue seems relegated to the design of the game at level 50. It includes relics, gems and runes which we place into our LIs, which still remains a generally broken system; three more of a stat that we saw on the Tier 9 relics isn't even motivating the most hardcore players to upgrade. In the RK's Stat tree, there are a full three options for spending hard-won points on very low items amounts of stats - 5 of your 65 points for 74 will or fate. Even stat tomes, which have been 10 for a long time were doubled to 20 at the new tier to make them mildly more relevant. None of these systems saw updates or corrections, except stat tomes as mentioned, but nor have they in the past two expansions, so its a least no points against Helm's Deep, but no points for.

    What's in a name?

    Somewhat sadly, many of the items added in Helm's deep do not have names. Instead they have formula names. Creative item names and descriptions enrich the game. They take the rich lore of the game and extent it to all corners. The Greater Resolute Shoulder pads Of Penetration I wear, which are stated the best I can find for the way I want to build have a depressingly mechanical name. Some of the items do have names, but about half do not. I'm not sure why all the items couldn't get names. I'm sad about the generic names. It's an opportunity missed.

    Didn't I see that somewhere before?

    For the first time ever in LOTRO, there are intentionally items that have the same exact stats but different names. Part of the reason for this is simple - there are a lot less ways to build items now because of the stat flattening I mentioned above. For some classes, such as healing tacticals, there is really only one or two logical options per slot - either crit\tat mastery or fate\crit. There's so much content, plus so much new loot from the big battles that things had to overlap sometimes, and due to the flat stating of items, they aren't even any different stat wise, not even a little. They are exactly the same except for the name. This is disappointing to me, as it should be to the folks who are working with the systems. The fact that it is impossible to create enough items to be unique should indicate that there is a problem elsewhere.

    Overall

    So overall I'm pretty disappointed in itemization in Helm's Deep, but looking at the big picture you start to see why things were done. Having a big jump in gear is exciting, but having everything be so easy as a result of that jump seems like a mess. Items feel more cookie cutter and uninteresting than before, and old systems showing their age continue to do so. It feels like more time should have been spent to refine all aspects of the trait tree and itemization before release, but I'm sure the time pressure dictated a lot of what we see today.

    Thanks for reading!

  2. #2
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    Interesting reading..

    Too bad it makes me either want to run outside and scream or bang my head on the wall. Its not like previous dev teams did not control stats for all the reasons stated but were abandoned with this expansion. They actually had statements that they were trying to keep stat inflation under control then.

    Now.. factor in Kate Paiz letter today..

 

 

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