Theme Park vs World

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I haven't touched on the topic of the world in LOTRO for quite a while, which is surprising considering that's one of my favorite topics. In any case, I'm mentioning it today because I'm starting to see a pattern I'm not 100% pleased about.

Today while out gathering journeyman tier ore (silver for my tinker) I traveled from Bree across the Brandy Hills, through the woods, and down to the banks of the Brandywine. If I was so inclined, I could have made a boundless journey from Weathertop in the Lone Lands to Needlehole in the Shire with my only moment on a road being the crossing of the Greenway in Breeland. In other words, that journey would feel like I was in a world, rather than a collection of zones in an MMO - a theme park if you will.

What I mean by theme park is a series of zones where the travel to and from is fairly strictly channeled and the experience highly organized and planned. We're seeing much more of this in LOTRO lately. From the Trollshaws into the Misty Mountains or into Eregion to Moria to Lothlorien to eventually Mirkwood, the process becomes an exercise in changing themes, rather than actually moving about a landscape. Oh sure, these zones are very good sized, and within them the world is very well crafted. Yet I can't escape the feeling that I'm on the greatest hits tour of Middle-Earth rather than a summer long backpacking trip through the countryside.

The fact that a seamless connection between zones (Shire, Breeland, Lonelands, Northdowns, Evendim) exists only heightens the sense of what's missing in later developments. Forochel itself is wide open, but the connection between it and Evendim is like two triangles precariously balancing on their points together - it's tenuous and contrived, not altogether stable. Or the trip east after the Trollshaws.

has so much potential to be more than just a series of zones following the Fellowship. There's the key, though. Following the Fellowship. That's the main idea of the development pattern. And it's one that makes sense. It's the most famous set of places in Middle-Earth. It's where the peak of the story takes place. It's where we can really connect with the core journey and struggle.

I do hope we will go back and visit the rest of the landscape at some point. It'd be a shame not to. An awful waste of space. Middle-Earth hovers on the edge of theme park territory. Perhaps when the game expands into Rohan we'll see a more broad and seamless set of zones. This adventurer can only hope. For him, Middle-Earth is a world, not just set of zones.

2 Responses to "Theme Park vs World"

Thallian Says:

Great point, I don't like being channeled like water all the time either for zone transitions, I like variety and freedom as well. Its a cheap and simple way to enhance immersion and I don't understand why they feel they need to do it the way they did but perhaps they feel they have good reason... or maybe they jsut didn't think of it.

Thornwell/Brandywine Says:

You make a lot of good points here Jaxom. Have you considered posting this up on the official forums as well? It would be good to get this in front of the Devs. Give them something to think about as we head up into Mirkwood and down in the the Rohan zones.