Skirmishes System part 3
Developer Diary: SoM Skirmishes: Story Instances
Brian âZombie Columbusâ continues his series of developer diaries about the new Skirmish system coming in The Lord of the Rings Online: Siege of Mirkwood with Part 3: Story Instances. If you’ve missed previous articles you can catch up with Part 1: Overview and Part 2: Story Instances.
I mentioned earlier that one of our design goals was: Add randomized elements into Skirmishes to keep replays interesting. We are well aware that any bit of content that you replay runs the risk of becoming boring and repetitive. By making Skirmishes both short and repeatable, we are potentially setting ourselves up for a problem. Weâve all played games where such repetition becomes frustrating. Games often tackle this problem by including enough randomized elements to keep it interesting (Rogue-like games come to mind). With Skirmishes we have put a number of systems in place to keep the variety high and each playthrough varied.
Each Skirmish has a set of monsters that are thematically linked to the story of that Skirmish. In Tuckborough Troubles, brigands, wolves and Orcs have invaded. These will be the monsters you see each time in that space. Where and when you see them will change with each playthrough, as well as what they are doing, what variety, and how difficult they are. For instance, during your first foray into Tuckborough you might find 3 swarm melee Orcs patrolling around a campfire while a normal archer Orc sits near the fire. The next time through, there may be a pair of elite wolves who lurk behind the tents! Spawns of monsters will usually be in the same general places to keep playthroughs moderately consistent, but each time through will have its own variety.
An Encounter is a purely optional objective, a side quest you can participate in if you find it. Each time you begin a Skirmish, we secretly select two Encounters from a list designed for the Skirmish. These Encounters will appear during your playthrough if you do what is necessary to trigger it. I'm being intentionally vague here because finding out what all the Encounters in a Skirmish are, and how to complete them, is part of the fun! Basically, keep your eyes and ears open, and you will find that a clearing that was empty during your last playthrough has an NPC that needs help, or a campsite that was abandoned previously has a brigand leader ready to fight. We've set up Deeds to track how many of these Encounters you've discovered in each Skirmish. Finding them all will grant special rewards, and each time you complete the Encounter you will have a chance of finding various Skirmish-specific rewards. More on rewards in future installments!
Last, and most exciting, are Lieutenants. As I explained, the monster spawns vary by what, where and when they spawn. Lieutenants take that variety and dial it up to "11". A Lieutenant is like a mini-boss that makes a normal fight more interesting (i.e. deadly!). Each has a unique look and a halo effect to indicate that they are special. Each one has a special skill or gimmick they will use while fighting you. We've designed Lieutenants to be beatable by "normal" combat tactics, but to be easier once their tricks are understood by experienced or observant players. In short, the more you play Skirmishes, the more Lieutenants you will learn how to recognize and how to alter your gameplay to counter them.
My favorite example is of the Zealot of Pain. He acts like a standard melee monster, perhaps just hitting a little bit harder. However, as you damage him he will put potent damage buffs on the other monsters you are fighting! The first few times you fight him you may not notice this is happening, only that fights with him in it quickly become deadly. Eventually, you will realize that when you kill him last the fight is much easier. Congratulations, you solved him! We've tried to design all Lieutenants with this idea in mind. They are beatable, but once the trick is figured out they are much easier to deal with.
Lieutenants have a chance to show up with any group of monsters in any Skirmish. It is important to fully understand how this will affect your playthrough of Skirmishes. An easy fight one time through might suddenly have more monsters than last time, including a Lieutenant. Additionally, all Skirmishes share the same pool of Lieutenants (with a few lore-inspired exceptions). This means that once you learn how to beat the Zealot of Pain in one Skirmish, you will know how to deal with him in any Skirmish.
Not all Lieutenants are made equal. There are some whose combat tricks can only realistically be dealt with by a group. We've made it so these guys only show up in the appropriate group-size scaled Skirmishes. Additionally, some Lieutenants will gain new twists to their skills in larger group sizes, though the basic tricks you learned for them should still apply. I guess I kinda hinted at scaling there, so without more beating around the bush....
My favorite part of the entire system! No joke. Skirmishes can be scaled to the group size and level of the group playing them, as well as having a difficulty toggle which will increase the rewards from the Skirmish. If this sounds great, it's because it is! However, allow me to fill in some of the details.
First, each scaling axis (level, size, difficulty) is set only when the Skirmish is created. They will not change during playthrough. For groups, the leader of the fellowship will decide what values to select.
Second, in the interests of balance we have only implemented solo, small fellowship, fellowship, and 12 man raidÂ sizes for Skirmishes. This means when you select size, you can only select 1, 3, 6 or 12. At launch, all skirmishes can be played as 1, 3 and 6 man versions. Roughly half of them can also be run as 12-man raids. We will be unlocking the remaining 12-man versions in the future.
Third, a combination of the two above limitations means that if you set up a small fellowship (3 player) Skirmish and try to invite a 4th member, they will be unable to join. Simply exit the Skirmish, and re-create a fellowship (6 player) Skirmish. Playing with less than the maximum number of players is possible, though a bit more difficult.
So there are some restrictions, but we allow a significant amount of customization to create the kind of experience you want. My favorite part of all this is the difficulty scale. If a particular Skirmish seems too easy, simply step up the difficulty and you will find yourself challenged again, and receive more rewards!
I think that covers scaling and randomization. It's our hope that we have created story instances with a number of randomized factors to keep replays fun and interesting. On top of that, we allow you to play those instances with as many, or as few, other players as you'd like and at whatever level you'd like. To top it off we even let you adjust the difficulty of the instances up if you are in the mood for a challenge.
Next time, we will talk about Soldiers. As a refresher, they are recruits from the free peoples you will be able to personally train and customize to assist you in Skirmishes. See you then!