Tag Archives: Talent Trees

The Patcher of Sauron

Is there any in this rout with authority to patch with me? Or indeed with wit to understand me?

Surety you crave! Turbine gives none. If you sue for its updates, then you must do its bidding.

-LOTRO Patcher, Lieutenant of Turbad-dûr

I might be a little down on Turbine’s patcher this week, which no doubt colors the tone of this post.

I haven’t been doing much in Middle-earth since my summer vacation there saw me through to the far side of Moria at last.  I had finally made it through the first LOTRO expansion, which I purchased just five years previously.  But since I owned the next two expansions already, and a third lay out there waiting for me already, you might be able to forgive my lack of excitement surrounding yet another LOTRO expansion.  I am not at all likely to see any of the Helm’s Deep expansion in the foreseeable future.


However, with Helm’s Deep, Turbine was looking to revamp the classes in a way to… if I understand this correctly… make the various roles a given class can perform more distinct.  Previously Turbine just heaped a bunch of skills onto a class, some for one role, some for another, and let the player sort them out, along with the various traits, to do whatever they wanted.  For some classes… especially the Warden and Runekeeper…  the various skills seemed somewhat comprehensible.  For others, such as the Captain, skills were not always clearly role specific.

Still, with understanding and a correct application of buffs or stances or auras or whatever, the old system let you mold your character to fill a specific role.  I am not sure that the Guardian was ever going to be optimal for DPS or the Captain turned into the healer of choice, but your Champion could certainly play either tank or DPS.  Zubon’s recent post on Adaptation probably has some applicability here.

So while I might not see the siege of Helm’s Deep any time soon, there was clearly change afoot that would affect me.  This drove my desire to log into the game and see what was up.  Would this make things better or worse for me?  One of my problems with the game is that, upon returning after a long absence, I often find it difficult to pick up where I left off with a class.  Things often change.  The spread of skills are not always clear in their use.  And the skill icons, tiny and over-wrought, frequently bear only a passing resemblance to what  the skill actually does.  I did a post a couple years back about the icons of the Champion class, which I found more distracting than useful.

Yeah, tell me what those do based just upon the picture.  I have my own guesses.  So it is often easier to just start a new character and relearn the class than to pick up where I was.

I actually think that redoing the skill icons… making them larger, clearer, simpler… might have been a bigger win than revamping classes.  In fact, I had half a hope that icons might be part of the revamp, making me all the more keen to see what had changed.  But first I had to patch.

Oh, the LOTRO patcher.

We were going out for a bit on Thursday night and I figured I could let the patcher run while we were away.  The Helm’s Deep expansion had dropped earlier Thursday, after a 2-day day delay, and should have been ready to go.  I let it update the launcher itself, then started it off on its patching process before we left the house.

We got back a little over 90 minutes later and I found that the patcher wasn’t even half done yet.

Back before we upgraded to a 25Mbit connection, I expected such updates to run all night.  The old ADSL connection was good for about a gigabyte an hour if nobody else was doing anything online.  I used to start big patches before going to bed in hopes of finding them done in the morning.

Now, with the high speed connection, EVE Online did its 1.21 gigabyte Rubicon patch, along with the update, in about 8 minutes.  So either the Helm’s Deep patch was absolutely huge, or their patcher is crap.

I’m voting for crap.

First, it does things inefficiently.  It seems to go file by file, judging how many individual items it had to download.  And, LOTRO has historically been unhappy about older installs.  After it passes a certain threshold of updates, everything slows down, including game play.  Given that my install is now over three years old, I am probably due for a “delete and install fresh” the next time I want to play seriously.  Finally, sometimes the installer just gets stuck.

When the patching was done on Thursday, I went to bed.  When I tried to launch again on Friday, it appeared to need to repatch all over again.  And then it hung up and stopped.  I started it over again and it carried on, but got stuck again.  I went off and did something else.

Saturday morning I patched again and it got through this time, but then wouldn’t connect to the game.  I waited a bit and tried again, at which point the patcher got stuck yet again.  But at least it got stuck at something I have faced before.

The image gave me the post title

The image gave me the post title

I knew which files to delete and, after it downloaded them again, the patcher finally finished, the glaring eye of Sauron was finally dismissed, and I was able to get into the game.  There, as expected, I was warned that I needed to choose a class specialization for my captain.

Along with other notices

Along with other notices

On my way at last.  And I was glad to find that the specializations bordered on the obvious when it came to which role was which.  For my captain, there was healing, DPS, and tanking.  And it looked like I could pick two out of the three right away and have access to the third by spending some Mithril Coins.

The Captain's Specs

The Captain’s Specs

Unfortunately, tiny undecipherable icons appeared to remain in force, so that wish fell by the wayside.  And then there was the question as to what to pick.  Basically, I liked my captain he way he was pre-patch, so I had to decide which spec fit that.  For solo play, the red DPS spec was probably the right one, but the yellow tanking spec sounded more like what I was used to.  The captain is the guy with the halberd in my book, and I always equip my captain thus, so I went for that spec.

And then I was sent to the talent tree to spend my points in something that felt like it was right out of World of Warcraft in about 2006.  Here are some points to spend, here are some skills and such, good luck making an informed choice.

Spending Points

Spending Points

Now, I realize that some people love talent trees, and I am not necessarily dead set against them, but when you get options where you cannot really answer questions like, “Do I need this?” “Will that change how I play the class?” or “Does even a full 5% boost make any real difference?” then I start getting pissy.  Yes, theory crafters dig this.  I do not.  And, given the many random specs I have seen in days gone by, theory crafters are in the minority.  I want to play the game, not decipher whether or not a 1% change in something has any meaning, so the potential positives of going this route are a bit lost on me.

More % questions

More % questions

It doesn’t have to be this way.  And it does not have to go the route that World of Warcraft chose either, which is admittedly much simplified. (And where there is still an occasional “right/wrong” choice in some brackets according to theory crafters at places like Elitist Jerks.)  EverQuest II, which has a mind boggling array of options for Alternate Advancement points, has some of the best class specific choices that let you focus on what you want your character to be that can make a distinct difference in how you play your character and what skills and buff you get.  And, most of all, I feel like I am given enough information in a majority of situations to make an informed choices as opposed to having to us Google to find out what the trade-offs really are.

Anyway, I won’t be playing LOTRO much in the near future.  And by the time I get back to playing the game, somebody will have deciphered which choices actually impact your play and which are a waste of points.  Then I will be able to use Google to make an informed choice.

Fifty – Not Just Another Level in Telara

With the announcement of the upcoming Rift expansion, Storm Legion, I thought it might be time to get a character to level cap in the game so that should I buy it and want to play, I would be ready… unlike with all those LOTRO expansions I own.  I’ve only ever been to Moria.  But that is a subject for another post.

Fortunately this was a pretty easy task to accomplish.  I have had a rogue sitting at level 49.8 for a few months.  I never could quite build up the enthusiasm to push him that last 20% of a level to get to 50.  I have hit level cap in enough games for there mere act of getting there not to be much of a thrill, and end-game pursuits have never really been my cup of tea.

But, with an expansion coming, the balance was tipped.  I figured it would be my only chance to see what one can do at level 50, since once you tack on another 10 levels, all that previously end-game content gets bypassed.  Such content becomes Wintergrasp after Cataclysm; once a popular event, now a distraction pursued by a few die hards and the curious.

So I ran out to Stillmore, the last zone I had been working on with my rogue Teresten (I “still” had “more” to do… who names these zones?), to find a zone event just kicking off.  That was a good thing, since it saved me the trouble of trying to pick up where I had left off.  I joined the first public group I could find, which became the main raid group, and we ran around stomping out rifts and slaying bad guys.

Along the way, the moment came, and I hit level 50.

The moment!

Now if you don’t play Rift, that “Level Up” message might look pretty impressive.  To put that in perspective, I get a similar size message, only in green, when I grab a quest which says, “Quest Accepted.”  So I have seen the big text 48 times already, it is the achievement at the bottom that is the difference… in that is says 50, rather that 40, 30, 20, or 10.

Rift is big on celebrating every moment, which is a good thing.  I remember in LOTRO when it used to just say something like “your level has changed” in you chat window.

I went on with the event, which was a success.  Since Stillmore events are for level 50s, it draws a crowd from the top heavy player base.  I got a pile of things that added 10,000 points to my planar attunement, which I noticed advanced my still visible and working experience bar when I used them.

I also had an in-game mail waiting for me.  “Probably some congratulations message from the faction leader,” I thought.  It was, sort of, though it was a little garbled at the end.

Since this might spoil things for you if you have not made it to level 50 in Rift, I am going to put this all after a cut, so you’ll only have yourself to blame if I ruin the surprise.

Continue reading

On Talent Trees and Skill Points

When I was writing yesterday’s post comparing aspects of Diablo III and Torchlight II, I was somewhat dreading the possible comments, and all the more so when Massively linked to the post. (Thanks, by the way.)

My fear was that there would be a parade of Hulk-like “Me smash always online DRM single player game!” comments.  That seemed to be the primary focus of Diablo III hate at launch, at least when the servers were down.

But I actually did not get any of that.  The joys of a small readership.  Or maybe I successfully deflected them all to Straw Fellow.  Evil plan achieved.

I was, however, a bit surprised to find, both here and over at Massively, that the presence of talent trees and skill points was being pushed as a big pro-Torchlight II differentiating factor.  It was sometimes hidden under “character customization,” but it was there and oft mentioned.

And I found this a bit odd because I do not like talent trees.  I see them as having proven their flawed nature over the last 15 years to such an extent that I wonder how anybody can promote them as a positive feature with a straight face.

We have talent trees, and we are sure we have succeeded where literally everybody else has failed in the past!

In theory, talent trees are great and represent a way to create a unique and special snowflake of a character.  I get that.  Lots of things seem great in theory.

In practice, there is usually one “right” build for whatever role you are seeking to fill and every other alternative is sub-optimal.

So talent trees become less about character customization and more about finding the “correct” answer.  In the end, I think that most of want our characters to be good at their chosen roles, right?  I know there will always be somebody who will view playing with a sub-optimal spec as a challenge, but I have to believe that is the exception and not the rule.

And because the talent tree allows us to make bad choices, the band-aid of the talent respec came into being.  At first it was grudging… Diablo II got patched to give you ONE respec… or expensive… recall the mounting respec bills in WoW way back when.  But eventually the devs threw their hands in the air in more recent games and gave us respecs that were cheap and plentiful while they went off to try and find that elusive “many good choices” talent tree formula.

Even EVE Online gives you a stat respec up front for free, and another one yearly.  And that is for five stats that really only impact the rate at which your character can learn skills.

But respecs are, in my view, an admission of failure.  They seem to be saying that the devs have copped to the fact that they cannot create a talent tree system with many good choices, so when you realize you have made a mistake, here is your out.

And even cheap and easy respecs were not enough in some cases.  Rift, whose big feature was the soul system, which could be viewed either as the best character customization ever or the talent tree from hell depending on your point of view, caved in and as much as admitted that the whole thing was too vast for the average player and gave us some templates to help curb the rash of bad builds.

Just show me the right answer so I can go play!

This is, of course, my view of the world.  It is based on history, but also on the fact that I don’t really want to play the talent point game.  And that is clearly an opinion.  Even as I was preparing to publish this, I saw that Syp over a Bio Break has a post up asking why we don’t have MORE talents and stats and such to tinker with in games.  To me it is like asking that we ignore the last 15 years or so of MMO development.  But we all play these games for different reasons.

Anyway, from my point of view, the choice made by Blizzard in Diablo III seems like a clear win, and improvement over the past.

Instead of constraining character development by making me spent points in a tree system… and running to a vendor to get a respec when I make the inevitable errors… Diablo III just opens up new skills as you level up and constrains your character development by making you choose which of those skills you want to use.  With elective mode [boobies] in the options, you can build up a set of six abilities from your choices as you see fit and never have to spend a talent point or get a respec.

Of course, the system is not perfect.  As Keen points out, some of the Diablo III skills are sub-optimal.  Hey, you can still make bad choices.  But it still seems like a step forward to me.

As I said, the idea that this is a step forward is clearly not held by some.  So today I will let you validate your opinion with a poll.  Numbers always add value to opinions!

And, of course, you can post your anti/pro talent tree manifesto in the comments.