LOTRO: An Unnecessary Increase in Level Cap?
I’ve logged into the Bullroarer test server and looked around several of the preview builds of Update 23 for LOTRO recently. So far what I’ve seen has broadly met with my approval. It’s pretty much more of the same, with the main selling point being the story and a new area of Middle-earth to explore. However, there’s one aspect of the soon to be released Update 23: Where Dragons Dwell that does strike me as a little odd. The level cap is being increased from 115 to 120. Last summer’s Mordor expansion raised the cap by ten to 115, so this new increase does feel a little too soon to me. However, if you look at the LOTRO Wiki, it would appear that increases tend to occur regularly every eighteen months to two years, so it can be argued that this pending change isn’t anything unusual. Yet, it somehow feels “off” to me, which I shall now endeavour to explain.
The Mordor expansion presented players with a major statistical and gear adjustment. More so than at other points in the game. The in-game quest rewards gave players a helping hand but to secure a full set of equipment to successfully traverse the rigours of the zone, you needed to repeat content, run instances and raids. Lootboxes and keys also initially dropped in-game and provided a supplement to the above. Then of course there was the LOTRO store that could provide keys instantly for a price. However, in the past year there has been various tinkering by the developers and keys drops are now less common place. To date there are still a lot of players working through the expansion as well as Dale-lands, attempting to earn enough barter rewards to acquire the right gear set. The coming level cap increase will effectively bring that process to a halt and negate any ongoing hard work by introducing a new rep faction and barter reward system.
Is a new gear grind really required so soon after the last expansion? It’s a debatable point. For every high-end achiever who wants the “best of the best”, there are two laid back players who are running a new alt through Ered Luin once again, just for the fun of it. LOTRO has a very diverse player base. Which is why I think that this decision to raise the level cap is somewhat of divisive. I have felt in recent years that the gear progression system has become a little too endgame focused. Although I appreciate that raid gear should not be given out on a whim and should be gated behind high end content, I often feel that intermediate players spend too much time levelling in under specified armour and jewellery. Once a player has finished a zone such as Mordor or similar, they may well find themselves adequately equipped for their level, but if they don’t run endgame content regularly, they don’t see any major benefit from it.
I have vivid memories of running group content back in the Moria expansion days, trying to earn First Age Lore-master Staff. I finally obtained one about ten days prior to the Siege of Mirkwood expansion that immediately made it obsolete. I find it similarly saddening that by the time I perfect my level 115 build it will be negated by the availability of new 120 items. For me if SSG could make a mid-tier of gear available that could be used for those players between casual and hardcore, that would be a good compromise. They’ve done this before. The floral barter system in Ithilien which came with Update 19: March of the King provided a satisfactory alternative to gear gained from endgame content. May be something similar will be made available in future level 120 content. In the meantime, I remain sceptical of the pending level cap raise. I do not like being under powered in MMOs and like to be able to earn items that improve my stats while I’m still levelling.