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Book 9: the Epic story and the skirmish system

More information emerges about SoM. One snippet I’ve caught via the Turbine forums is this:

apparently the Epic story for Book 9 will not have any group instances but instead will rely on the Skirmish system. So, whereas before you had to group up for certain chapters, in Book 9 you can choose to go solo, in a 3-man, a 6-man or a 12-man group.

I can see positive points about this. Finding groups to complete chapters is not always easy, especially for those coming up later on. People are having serious issues completing the books in Volume 1. Introducing an option to go solo can only be good for this reason. There is no mention of extending this system to earlier books, I’d imagine it would be technically very difficult but what is seems they are doing here is making some group chapters easier to solo. Finally, giving players more choice over how they wish to play the game, surely this is good too.

But, I do have a small niggle. With the option not to group, will people not bother? Will it then become difficult to find a group for a chapter because everyone has done it solo?If you can do it on your own why bother to get 6 or 12 people together? Yes, that would be more fun, but I can see it  happening once, and after that more rarely. It may be that extra elements will be introduced to provide incentives to group. I imagine there would be. There is talk about  incremental rewards related to group size within the Skirmish system but I wouldn’t think these could be too different since that could penalise those unable to group. Some of the best rewards come from completing the books and that can’t/shouldn’t really be changed for any player, in a group or solo. Perhaps we just have to hope that group options are such fun, we will want to play them again and again.

Anyhow, despite my grousing, I feel that making the Epic story easier for all players to complete is probably the right decision. Many players play LOTRO specifically for the story-telling, that Tolkienesque essence, and are less concerned with beating bosses and honing their skills. Making chapters of the Epic story, which is a fundamental part, difficult without a  skilled group is a bit of a disservice to these players who may then find themselves unable to complete.