Skirmishes System part 4
Developer Diary: SoM Skirmishes: Skirmish Soldiers
Soldiers in Middle-earth
Skirmishes represent the Free Peoplesâ response to the increasing hostility across Middle-earth. All across Eriador, Skirmish Camps have sprung up to serve as mustering places for those willing to fight. Most of these people are not formally trained combatants; they are simple folk who have taken up arms to defend their homes and lands against the growing threat of the Enemy. Most of the formally trained warriors have been called away by their respective lords and masters to assist in the larger scale battles that are brewing. This leaves an opening for you, the LOTRO players, to help lead the way to victory!
Youâre a hero, act like it!
LOTRO players represent someone a cut above average; a hero, whether by accident (like some Hobbits we all know) or intention. With this power comes responsibility -- not only to assist in these skirmishes, but to take some commoners under your wing and train them. In return, you will be able to bring these new Soldiers into battle with you. Unfortunately, they are not as well trained as the Captainâs Herald or Lore-masterâs companions. In battle, they will act without your orders, engaging the enemy as they see fit. You can give them occasional orders, but they are not well-disciplined enough to be managed as much as seasoned soldiers.
Train your personalized troops!
There are many aspects of your Soldiers that you can specialize as you see fit. Since there are many eager recruits to choose from, you are in a position to decide what you would like your Soldiers to look like. You may select what race your Soldier is, as well as their clothing, hair styles and even hair colour! In addition to these cosmetic changes, you also choose specialized training in various arts of war. These "Roles" allow you to train a Soldier that complements your abilities. As an example, if you are fragile in direct combat, train your Soldier in the Protector Role. Soldiers who become Protectors will attempt to draw enemy attacks to themselves, keeping the attacks from you.
Soldiers and Design
Art imitates life
One of the most interesting things about working on LOTRO is balancing between the rich lore of the world and gameplay mechanics. I experienced this firsthand during Moria while working on the Rune-keeper. I find that lore informs gameplay as much as gameplay informs the lore. The design we settled on for Soldiers is as much a series of gameplay decisions as it is lore decisions. Some of the lore described above led to how the game functions, and some of the gameplay below led to how we presented the lore. I find the dichotomy to be interesting, like the old saying: Life imitates art. Art imitates life.
Soldier interaction and availability
After completing the Skirmish tutorials, you will gain the Summon Soldier skill that calls your Soldier. It's important to point out that your Soldier may only be used while inside a Skirmish. We have designed the Skirmish instances with Soldiers in mind, but the rest of the game would be made trivial if you could bring your troops around with you! In light of the Soldierâs minimal formal training and that we already had two "pet" classes, we decided to have the Soldier mostly controlled by AI. He will fight to the best of his ability, but you will have only minimal ability to direct his targets and no ability to choose when he uses his skills. This minimal control comes through the Direct Soldier skill which will force your Soldier to attack the indicated target. This skill has a longer cooldown time, representing the Soldierâs inability to follow constant orders. This all serves a minor design goal that I didn't mention in the overview; keep the UI impact of Skirmish low. That is to say, we didn't want to add dozens of new skills and barter items to already full shortcut bars and backpacks!
The specialized training and customization available for your Soldier will be done through special Skirmish Traits. I'll go into a lot more details about them in the upcoming developer diary about Skirmish rewards. For now, you just need to know they act much like existing traits, though in a separate pool. They are managed separately from existing traits, so they won't interfere with your Virtue/Race/Class/Legendary traits, and theyâll allow you to choose from a wide variety of cosmetic changes to your Soldier. The race and gender of the Soldier can be designated through a trait, as well as what hairstyle and color you wish them to have. Next, you will be able to pick a "Role" trait. This is the most important trait for your Soldier, as it will essentially define what class the Soldier is. For instance, the Protector Role is focused on keeping threat on himself, and outfits your Soldier in heavy armour and a shield. Each Role will then allow you to pick what Skill traits you want. These Skills each add new abilities to your Soldierâs repertoire. The Protector can purchase skills to increase threat, trigger an AOE attack, or heal himself. Finally, there are Training traits which grant generic bonuses like critical rating or morale. There are more traits for each of these options than there are slots to equip them, allowing each player to customize their Soldier in ways that complement their playstyle.
Your fellowship of two
I'd like to talk about that last sentence a bit more. The number one reason we added Soldiers into Skirmishes was so each player could customize that Soldier to complement their own characters. In fact, the purpose of Soldiers is mainly aimed at letting solo players participate in more challenging Skirmishes. As a healer, you can add a tank or a DPS Soldier to your group. As a DPS class, perhaps you would like your Soldier to be a healer or a buffer. The choices are up to you, and they add a nice layer to the game. In addition to the combat effectiveness bump, they allow us to make Skirmishes more "epic." Instances tend to have more monsters and more allied NPCs, to give them a feeling of scope.
So, Soldiers allow for an extra axis of customization, represent the commoners of Middle-earth fighting at your side, and allow us to throw more monsters at you! Next time we will be talking about everyoneâs favorite thing in the universe, Rewards, so check back soon!