I’ve had an interesting few days in LotRO. Namely, they’re interesting because I’ve found myself logging out within minutes of getting online. The reason is that, as a result of some unfortunate logout positioning, I come back online in the middle of a fight. Without fail, I’m always at about 30% health and unbuffed. Being that I’m still in Angmar, running usually just means pulling more mobs. So, I’ve been dying. A lot.
That in itself isn’t the problem, though. The problem is the death penalty that follows. On the surface, it looks like a morale and power knock, but, when you try fighting something, it quickly becomes apparent that you’re not going to be hitting much. If you do, the mob will be on its way to recovery before you land another one. It’s by far the most actively annoying death penalty I’ve encountered in a game.
Other games have similar systems but none of them sting so much. WoW does something similar with its resurrection sickness. You get a debuff to all your stats there, too. The difference is WoW gives you a way to avoid it by running back to your corpse. LotRO doesn’t give you an option. You die, you get it. End of story. Games like Vanguard dock your XP, which is a more passive way to punish the player. It actually works to support the game because you’ll be XPing for longer.
LotRO is so bad because it effectively incapacitates you for ten minutes. You’re useless. Trying to quest is an exercise in futility, so you’re left with crafting and chatting. As much as I like chatting with my guildies, I get bored staring at my character’s back– as he stares at the horizon, counting down the seconds on the debuff timer.
More often than not, I just log out. I enjoy the heck out of LotRO, it’s true, but I’m not especially compelled to go an extra yard for it right now. There’s nothing of interest coming my way until Freemium and those Epic Book quests will still be there the next time I log in. And with more games going F2P all time time, it’s easier (and more rewarding) to just go play something else. Tonight, I got in and played for about an hour. It was that special brand of LotRO-Good and I’m happy I didn’t die right away.
Still, seeing the good, accessible, fun part of the game contrasted against the antiquated and, more importantly, absolutely pointless death penalty, I’m left wondering how long this vestige will last. LotRO, like the rest of the industry, is moving towards accessibility. We’re forward-thinking, progressive individuals, and this kind of thing just seems old. There is no function behind it other than to slow the player down and give death meaning.
But, then, does death have meaning in LotRO? Should it? If we’re in the process of opening doors, I’m inclined to say no. After all, something that tells your player log out and play something else is just bad design.
So, my question to you is this: do MMORPGs still need death penalties?
Death should have meaning in games where… well, where death means something. In my opinion, if you’re going to punish the player, it should be done as passively as possible, i.e. xp debts and corpse runs. Don’t stop the adventure to flaunt a system that’s older than half the people playing it. Just my thought.