The Grind - A LOTRO Primer

Monday, October 20, 2008

This is one of those subjects that pops up on every blog about online gaming. In MMO development, there seems to be this idea that in order to maximize player time with the game, one or more "grinds" should be incorporated into the game. A grind is essentially a task that is repeated over and over again for some goal, be it experience, faction points, crafting ability, etc.

LOTRO is no exception to the idea that grinds belong in MMOs. Fortunately for me and the rest of the LOTRO players, the grind isn't necessary to advance in the game and experience a vast majority of the content. However, there are systems in this game that do require grinds.

The first, and probably most used grind is the quest grind. Now this should be an oxymoron. Unfortunately, it's not. There are moments in the game, particularly around the middle levels when working in the Lone-Lands and the North Downs where the quests begin to feel like doing the same thing over and over again. Hunt these boar (boars are infamous in LOTRO), collect this item, talk to this guy. Over and over and over. It's a moment where you must question why you are playing a game where even the quests are grinds. Fortunately, this doesn't represent the quality of most of the quest content. On the whole, I would say LOTRO's strong point is the compelling quest lines - particularly the epic book quests. Still, this grind exists. Thank goodness I got past it. But, it has been a sticking, and even dropping point, for quite a few LOTRO players. They just can't get past those middle-levels (20-30[5]). I hope that Turbine at some point takes a look at this content bracket and either revises the quests or adds another option with more varied, compelling, and even innovative quests.

The second grind is the crafting grind. Being someone who enjoys crafting, this isn't too bad. Now, I am a yeoman and have only leveled cooking and farming to grand master. Unfortunately for me, cooking is (was worse) expensive, so the grind in the last tier took quite a bit of time. Cooks don't have a very strong and stable market for food unless it's critted food. Lucky for us, this grind is the least annoying of them all - or rather, least expansive. If you hate grinds in crafting, then it might be the most.

The third grind is the deed grind. Deeds are like the XBox 360 achievments, or the recent achievments added to WoW. They're a set of optional, non-quest, objectives to complete. The come in a few varieties. You receive a title and/or a trait (character stat modifier you slot) as a reward for completing the deeds.

  • First, the explorer deed focuses on finding a set of locations in Middle-Earth. These frequently revolve around some aspect of the lore. As such, they tend to be loved by the lore junkies out there. These are the least grindy of the bunch.
  • Second, there are also quest deeds, which advance as you do a certain number of quests. These also rarely incorporate grinds (unless it's quest grinding).
  • The third type is collection deeds. These are deeds asking you to collect a set of items, typically books or papers, off certain mob spawns. These can be a grind, but in my experience, the items drop at a decent rate for almost every deed.
  • Fourth, slayer deeds are the ones that create the most grind. These are the primary source of trait upgrades, but unfortunately, those upgrades require a grind. These deeds are two-tiered. the first tier gives you a title - such as "Slug Squisher" (for killing slugs in the Rukshuk Bog in the Shire) - and the second tier gives you the trait - such as Determination (trait for the slug slayer). The second tier also requires more kills than the first. The early deeds aren't too problematic (unless being farmed by many other players) with 30 the first time and 60 the next. But, as you get to the more advanced zones, you'll frequently see 150 for the first set and 300 for the next. Killing 300 of anything is a grind.
  • Fifth are the social deeds. These deeds revolve around emotes. A player will receive a new emote of other players emote a certain type to them a certain number of times. To prevent random emote spamming, these are blind deeds. That is, you don't know where you stand in terms of progress. These are definitely grinds, but the blind nature of them reduces the impact somewhat.
  • Sixth are the class skill deeds. These deeds give you improved skill traits that will upgrade certain skills. These aren't a grind necessarily because you advance them by doing what you're already doing - using your skills.
  • Seventh is what I'd call miscellaneous. They cannot be easily classified. They might (Shire post runs) or might not (festival tavern run) be grinds.

The last grind is the reputation grind. This basically means gathering reputation drops from mobs of a certain type to turn in with a given faction's rep vendor for reputation points. The number of points you have determines the level of reputation you have with that faction, and that level determines the type of rewards you can aquire. It has been my experience that these rewards are seldom worth the grind it takes to get the required rep.

However, despite my dislike for grinds, I've been doing a fair bit of it over the past few weeks. Certainly I still have quests hanging around, but all of them are fellowship quests. With my kinmates few and far between lately (work, life, MoM beta) I've been slower in the completion of fellowship quests. I'm not a huge fan of PUGs (pick up groups) despite having a fairly high sucess rate of a good group. So I've been grinding deeds and rep.

The rep I've been focusing on has been to unlock certain quick travel routes that are gated by reputation. Merely to make things more convenient should I ever need to travel to a given place. The Council of the North is my main focus. Their quest hub in Northern Angmar is time consuming to "run" to due to aggro and the distance from the nearest ungated quick travel route. I also have a fair number of quests still up there that I might want to complete at some point. The deeds I have been focusing on haven't been in any particular order. I've pretty much completed the ones I wanted to for the trait upgrades I need. So I've just been going through them systematically. Lately it has been completing them in the Trollshaws just to say I can completely check off an area of all quests and deeds (barring the raids quests).

The question is, why is this sort of gameplay necessary. I have the fortunate (or unfortune, depending on your point of view) to have a need for coin. My crafting skills aren't particularly profitable. So, these grinds, by gathering and selling the trash loot, gives me a "good" source of income. Still, there ought to be a better way of going about gaining the rewards and money that is more fun than a grind system. It's not hard, it's just tedious and time consuming. MMO companies are taking the easy road out with this type of content, in my opinion.

So, I bide my time till Moria with my grinding. I do bring a bit of it on myself by my completionist attitude toward the game, but still, it doesn't change what exists.

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