LOTRO Players News Episode 28: Helm’s Deep Review

This week is our review show for Helm’s Deep.

Game News

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Trapper of Foes Hunter Skills

Winterstock

Helm’s Deep Review

Epic Story

Side Quests

Landscape

Epic Battles

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Class Changes

Crafting

Random

Final Thoughts

Other Scores

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Ten Ton Hammer 90/100

Helm’s Deep Review Poll

Our Scores

Draculetta: C-

Pineleaf: C+

Ethelros: B

Braxwolf: B

Andang: C+

Overall Score: B-

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Reviews

Rorgg left a 5 star review this week on iTunes:

“Hats off to Pineleaf & company for doing a good job partially filling the void left by the end of the dear departed CSTM.”

Featured Comments

AnUnexpectedVidcast left a comment on Episode 27 of LOTRO Players News

“Short but sweet :) .  Great show as always guys”

dgenxali left a comment on Episode 27 of LOTRO Players News

“Short but good show  As far as poems go, I just dont know what else to write about, I mean the last one ended at helms deep, So cant continue the journey until Turbine launches more content..If you guys can give me some topic or some side story or something like that, I can write for you all another one  Especially for shorter shows

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Andang @PvMP_Andang

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Draculetta @Draculetta_72

Ethelros @Ethelros

Mysteri @Mysterixox

Pineleaf @TrumpeteerofMiddleearth

Final Thoughts

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14 comments

  1. dgenxali /

    2 hours at night, 1 hour in the morning. Finally finished this oliphant of a sho. Awesome job guys. Concerning Big Battles, I am really enjoying them.. Yes they are different from our traditional instances and raids, but like you try and try again to figure out a tier 2 raid challenge, same way doing the big battles daily and doing a better job then day before is fun.. And having other people who are rank 6 like me really makes the experience that much better.. This year I hope turbine expands on the big battle system, expanding the roles is a good idea as well.. As far as scaling goes.. I really hope they scale tower of orthanc. It’s one of the best raids they ever designed.. Even at 95, it requires players to work in coordination to get the tier 2 challenge..
    Concerning Poems, that is a great idea Andang.. I have many other alts and I am sure they can’t wait for their stories to be told :-)
    Keep up the great work!

  2. 2 hours in, great show a thorough dissection of HD!

    RE: Skill trees…I realy think they are great…liked the point Andang made…scraped to a minimum now…but really needs some more complexity and variation into the trees into the future… If Turbine leaves it here is too basic!

    Re: Balancing obviously way too easy at the moment…

    Bring on the challenge please :)

    OK 1 more hour to go…

  3. Finished :) Show rating A+

    Overall rating for LOTRO 12.1: C+ (rather than HD as I have no experience of HD or Big Battle as yet!)

    Hoping the future builds on HD and later versions will get higher ratings!

  4. Trotter /

    One thing that you did not mention on the excellent show was that Big Battles start at level 10.

    If you look it them from that point of view, you can see why they are designed as they are.

    You don’t have any skills or have much idea as to how to play your toon at level 10, as you have only just started the game, so you don’t get attacked.

    I also think this is why you don’t play as your class, but with Officer, Engineer or Vanguard skills as at level 10 you don’t have any class skills.

    Thanks for the podcast, great as always.

  5. Kaleigh Starshine /

    A wonderful show as always! I know many like things to be short and sweet but I, for one, appreciate more in-depth conversation and appraisal of such things :)

    Fredelas wrote so well concerning his opinions about Helm’s Deep on a broader scale and virtually echoed my opinions concerning it on that scale, save for a few things concerning the new skill trees.

    With that in mind, I would like to speak to the Trait Trees and skill changes that were brought about by Helm’s Deep in a bit more detail, even though I can already hear some wailing and groaning in the background. Shush! :)

    As he did, I will also give the forewarning that some of what I write will be critical, some even highly critical, but I want to be very clear that I take no joy in that whatsoever. I want these lands to continue forever, like we all do, and I do think that, sometimes, honest criticism is needed to keep things at their best. Unfortunately, I could never post this to the Overlords’ forums because it (and I) would be shredded apart within seconds.

    A fair way to start, I think, is to look at the Overlords’ stated goals and reasons behind the skill changes, to see if they succeeded in doing what they set out to do:

    Homogenization

    The complaint regarding homogenization was that class roles were not being respected, in a sense. Examples of this would be Champions in the Fervour line tanking 3 and 6 person instances, Red-line Captains being able to heal some 3 person instances and such. Homogenization was never really an issue when soloing and over landscape content, to my mind, since one is always tanking, dpsing, and even possibly healing while alone, performing all three roles at once.

    While it could be technically argued, since all the classes can now solo 6 person content, even the Tier 2 Challenges, and nearly all can solo full Skirmish raids, that the issue of homogenization has been lessened, I do not think anyone would agree this is so in spirit :)

    Even the DPS lines of all the classes can solo 3 person content now. Clearly this issue has become much, much worse than before.

    Skill Bloat

    I believe there is a major design flaw within the new skill system regarding this issue.

    I did not bother to look for new stickers or new Scouting tools, nor anything else until after I finished my adventures in the Westemnet, due to the ease with which those adventures were accomplished. Nor did I even bother with the skill tree at all (which I will explain later). However, once through with those adventures, I decided to have a new Legendary sticker and Tools made for myself, for more difficult adventures and more of the Battles. I began to look at the skill trees and what legacies I might want for my Scouting implements.

    What I noticed nearly instantly was how much power the Quiet Knife line gives to Scouts’ Critical Chain skills. For those unfamiliar with Scouts, we have what is called our Critical Chain, which consists of a subset of skills that become available for a time once we achieve a critical hit against a foe. There are two steps to the chain: a starter and a finisher.

    Now, our Critical Chain skills are our most powerful skills already. But, on top of that, the Quiet Knife line gives the following:

    A -1919 Critical Defense debuff through Reveal Weakness, making our critical hits strike harder
    Critical Chain skills bypass 10% of our foes’ mitigations
    +10% damage for all Critical Chain skills
    Upon use of every Critical Chain skill, a 45% chance to lower the foe’s Critical Defense by 5%

    After noticing this, I took a look at our Legendary Items and the possible legacies to be found upon them. In doing so, I noticed two things:

    Firstly, our choices for legacies on our legendary items are now largely made for us, due to so many skills being gated behind the skill trees. There are very few viable options.

    Second, I noticed a good many legacies that either strengthened individual Critical Chain skills, the entire subset of Critical Chain skills, or the buff we Scouts receive upon dealing a critical blow with Improved Feint Attack, which is a Critical Chain skill:

    Weapons
    – +15% Critical Response Skill Damage (all critical chain skills)
    – +25% Feint Attack damage (a critical chain skill)
    – +25% Critical Chain Skills Critical Multiplier (extra damage on all crits using Critical Chain skills)

    Tools
    – +15% Critical Chain Skills Critical Chance (extra chance to crit with all Critical Chain skills)
    – +30 Seconds to Devastating Critical Buff Duration (making the buff last longer, the buff being: +10% Positional Damage and +20 Skills Critical Multiplier)

    So that subset of skills, which is already boosted by the Skill Tree, can be boosted even further through our legendary items.

    Lastly, I noticed that the cooldown on all of our skills was reduced, dramatically in some cases. Here is the list of Critical Chain skills available to Quiet Knife Scouts:

    Improved Feint Attack – 5s cooldown
    Double-edged Strike – 5s cooldown
    Flashing Blades – 5s cooldown

    And with an investment of 12 points (for 6 ranks) in the Gambler tree, one can get:

    Gambler’s Advantage – 5s cooldown

    Adding it all together, I realized that one could boost a small subset of skills to great power and simply spam those skills over and over, due to the lower cooldown times. Those four skills nearly cover one’s entire combat actions due to their short cooldowns, though there is a bit of gap in between. Improved Feint Attack allows one to strike from stealth, which makes Cunning Attack and Surprise Strike hit much harder, so those can be mixed in as needed.

    What this means is that, not only is it possible to reduce a Scouts’ skill pool from 20 skills to 6 skills, with those 6 skills being far more advantageous to use than any other skills, but that this is nearly mandated by the Skill Tree itself.

    This renders approximately 14 skills, about 70%, of the skill pool as skill bloat.

    The same is true for Champions. I will not go through all the skill tree bonuses and legacies and such, but it is very clear that Berserker champions (the single target line) should only ever use Strike (Single target) skills, while Deadly Storm champions (the AoE line) should only ever use Blade (AoE) skills, even when fighting only one foe. I will provide an extreme example of this later.

    I cannot speak to the other classes as well, since these are the two I know best. But I am sure this affects them all to some degree. There is no question that, proportionally, ‘skill bloat’ is far worse than it was with the old system, and I would even argue that this is the case in absolute terms as well.

    Skill Bloat should never have been given as a reason for the changes to Skills and Traits. Absent hard mathematical fact showing that a skill does less damage, costs more power, has a longer cooldown, has no other redeeming qualities, and so on, whether or not a skill is ‘bloat’ is something decided by personal taste and the context to which it is applied.

    I adventured through the whole of the Westemnet, completing all quests (including the Challenge quests) and the Battles, without ever choosing a Specialization. I also restricted myself from using the following general skills:

    Sneak, Diversion, Improved Hide in Plain Sight, Exploit Opening, Reveal Weakness, Improved Riddle, Improved Addle, Touch and Go, Burgle, Find Footing, Ready and Able, Burglar’s Antidote, Safe Fall, and Purge Corruption.

    This left me with 5 skills: Subtle Stab, Surprise Strike (without the surprise part, since no Stealth!), Double-edged Strike, Cunning Attack, and Provoke. Even so, I never fell once, even during the Challenge quests.

    Due to this experience, I could argue that all other Scout skills are bloat and should be removed from the game.

    And I would be tragically, horribly wrong. But this is what has happened and what has brought us to this place.

    Saying to those who enjoyed and found a reason for using all of their skills that those skills were ‘bloat’ is like criticizing someone for their favorite number or color. And the casual dismissal, not only of others’ playstyles that differ from their own, but of the individuals who enjoy those playstyles is probably the worst part of all of this. This has become a polarizing, divisive issue amongst our community, and it remains so to this day. Some of the comments Brax mentioned a week or two ago, from that poll created by a Players’ Council member, go to this as well..

    Clearly, either a grave mistake was made in the Skill Tree design, or ‘skill bloat’ was not a true reason for the changes. My vote is for the latter, and I will explain further a bit later.

    Making Skills More Meaningful

    Back to my Champion example :)

    When looking at Champion items, I was very pleased to find that a reforge had given my sword an extra Major legacy. And that it was Ferocious Strikes Cooldown made me wonder… would it be possible to specialize in the Deadly Storm (AoE) line and still find a way to get Ferocious Strikes (without question the best single-target attack able to be acquired outside of specializing in the Berserker (Single Target) line).

    And it was, though the cost was rather heavy. 32 out of 65 points needed to go into the Berserker line, giving 16 ranks, due to the 2 for 1 cost (Ouch!). But I made some sacrifices in the Deadly Storm line to get it, and I found a way that seemed tolerable. I could not wait to put that skill to use! :)

    But, after a few adventures, I ended up converting that legacy to a Minor Fate legacy instead, which basically only had the benefit of giving me 300 Crit rating or so.

    Why?

    Because I never ended up using the Ferocious Strikes skill. I should give the numbers to make the point so much clearer, but to keep this manageable, I will not. The issue was that, even with a fully tiered and ranked up legacy boosting its power, between all the line bonuses for Blade (AoE) skills in my chosen line, and the lack of line bonuses given to Ferocious Strikes from its own line, Ferocious Strikes was weaker than any of my Blade skills, even in times when I was fighting only one foe.

    In short, rather than making skills more meaningful, skills have been made more meaningless. The only real way in which skills have any meaning is whether they are a part of the subset of skills that one of the Skill Trees boosts. With very few exceptions, and really only when you have everything you want from your specialized tree, going into other trees to get skills is not a good way to go.

    Creating more Variety and the option for Versatility

    I think I have covered this well enough already. About the only thing worth going outside your specialized tree for with the current system would be passive traits that automatically apply to the small subset of skills your tree empowers. Critical Hit Chance, Stat Attributes, reduction to Attack Duration, and such. What the options are depend upon one’s class, of course.

    But when compared to the old system, where you could still get your capstone in one line, and choose two traits from any other line that had a more focused and applied bonus to more specific things, the new system allows for far less versatility and variety, in my opinion.

    The State of Group Content

    Not too many on the show do much group content it seems, so I thought I might quickly explain what that is like with the new changes.

    Basically, the overpoweredness [is that a word? :)] that affects the individual is magnified dramatically within the group context.

    For all skirmish raids and all instances, except for perhaps the nastiest Challenges on Tier 2 raids, what most do is simply gather every foe from the very beginning of the instance to the Boss at the end and blender them down. 40, 50, 80 foes blendered down, with no drop in the morale of those in the fellowship or raid.

    This was somewhat the case before, at least to a lesser extent, which is why I would write about the troubles with Scouts and how difficult it was to be welcomed and viable within the group context, since we only strike one foe at a time.

    But now, these raids are being done with just 6, or 3.

    The only real reason there needs to be a bit more planning and strategy for the T2 Challenge raids is due to the conditions of those Challenges. You may need to slay all of a certain foe before another, and just blending everything down at once would cause the Challenge to fail. Absent those conditions, however, you could just blend things down with little effort even there.

    Where we are, and where we are going from here

    Finally, concerning why these changes were made, the current game balance, and whether it was intended:

    As I wrote above, choosing to point to ‘skill bloat’ as a cause for the recent changes was a grave mistake in my opinion. I do not think the Overlords wished to explicitly state what their reasons for the changes were, so they used ‘skill bloat’ and the other reasons I listed instead.

    In my opinion, there are two main reasons for the change:

    1. Through their data-mining and analysis, the Overlords determined that a more simplified game would attract more to these lands and cause more Bree-land currency to be spent within them. (The Store)
    2. For ease of design and less effort to be required in the future, by giving more points to spend in the trees.

    That is why, for those expecting that our being ‘overpowered’ will be a fleeting thing, I would not hold my breath. I think that, largely, when the Overlords are speaking about correcting ‘balance’ issues, they are referring to balance issues amongst the classes themselves, rather than with regard to our foes.

    Why?

    Well, as I wrote last Summer and Fall, when the developer diaries first began to come out for Helm’s Deep, there have been trends toward ease and simplification of these lands for years now. But, besides even that, there are numerous and telling evidences of the intent to make things easier and more simplified within this expansion itself:

    Changing threat and aggression from a merit-based system that required effort and skill, to one of mere existence is a simplification
    Cutting the number of skills we can use from ~40 to 20 (and really 6-8 as shown above) is a dramatic simplification to our combat in these lands.
    The degree to which things have been made so easy is, in itself, an evidence of the Overlords’ intent. Even if you believe they were way off in what they intended, the absolute magnitude of the swing toward the simple is just too great to ignore. It would be like estimating the Sun to be 93 miles away from Middle Earth rather than 93 million miles.

    As the ease of combat and these other issues were brought up in Beta, it was stated, clearly and unambiguously, that those who felt this way were only a part of a vocal minority, and that the Overlords not only believed that these types of changes were what most people wanted, but that they knew it was so.

    And they may be right. They are most likely right, in fact, as they have a power to collect and gather information regarding the masses far beyond what any one of us could. So any polls on the subject were ignored, and the larger number of respondents, and the more the polls swung to one side, the greater the insistence that those polls were meaningless.

    There are only two possibilities. Either the Overlords are correct, and this is the new state of these lands, or they have severely blundered in their method of either gathering their data or analyzing it, which would be a very bad thing for us all. In any case, I do not know what it would take for the Overlords to change their mind on this issue. It would be nice to see a Feedback topic regarding this, along with all the other Feedback topics currently on their forums. That there is not, even with all the buzz about this, is strong evidence of the strength of their conviction in this matter.

    I would not expect much of a change.

    But if there was to be a change, it had best come soon, as there is a very real cost being compounded each day while these lands are in the state they are in. For one, these lands are now being compared to web browser games in difficulty. That is an overstatement, of course, but it is probably true to say that we are closer to that than what we used to be before the changes. The cost here is that those looking at these lands will conclude all areas are like that, and they miss out on the incredibly rich environment, and story, and community, and all the other things that make these lands what they are.

    Secondly, people are getting used to soloing 6 person adventures for treasures, used to blasting through Barad Guldur in one hour and earning 56 Seals, thousands upon thousands of Marks and other things. If you think there was resistance to the skill trees themselves before, I cannot imagine the outcry once it is again more difficult to do these instances and earn those rewards. Any changes had best come soon, and that nothing has really been announced or planned in that regard speaks to the fact that things are as the Overlords want them, I think.

    There are many great points to the Helm’s Deep expansion, but to my mind, the Skill Tree changes have to weigh very heavily. The skill tree will affect our experience from Level 1 to 95 and beyond, and on any adventure we strike out upon. The Westemnet, while a beautiful and engaging region, covers just 10 levels and, thus, only a small portion of time.

    Grade: D-

    Before I end this, I just want to reiterate that my being so critical of these changes is neither easy nor pleasurable for me. Also, I do not think these issues are due to the developers, themselves, but were mandated from on high. With the small number of developers that there are, to have produced what they did is a great achievement, I believe.

    Where we go from here is very much in doubt. The self-fulfilling prophecy of doom might have begun here (Less development means less interest from the players means less resources allocated toward development, and so on). It is in the Overlords’ hands to reverse this. Open the coffers and invest in these incredible lands and its citizens will grow and spend their coin!

    [3,257 words... not too bad for commenting on a 3+ hour show? :) ]

    • Kaleigh Starshine /

      And I forgot perhaps the most important part, so add a few words to my total :)

      Hindsight is 20/20, and I do not know when the decision was made to not pursue another expansion in 2014, but I think it was a grave, grave mistake to rush the class changes with this expansion.

      Firstly, the Epic Battles make one’s class largely irrelevant anyway, so they were not needed for those.

      Secondly, there were no new instances or other content that would put the class changes to use.

      And, thirdly, landscape content has, for a few years now, been meant to be very easy, so there was no need to rush them for that either.

      Taking 2014, without the pressure of a full expansion, to work on these changes, would have been the ideal, absolutely ideal, time to consider changes of this sort. Unfortunately, they were clearly rushed at the end and are now a part of our existence here, for better or worse.

      But devoting all the time spent on the changes to more content would have made Helm’s Deep a Wow! expansion, I think, with little actually lost in terms of play that the new skill system gives us.

      • I think one possible reason for this: since they made the decision to charge for the epic story with Helm’s Deep, they needed more bullet points on the “free” side of the ledger. If you remember, “class changes” was one of the things they touted as free with Helm’s Deep.

      • Kaleigh Starshine /

        Oh, I think that is likely true. Still, I cannot think of any other feature over the course of these lands’ history having the same level of uncertainly and reserve amongst the player base before its implementation.

        If there ever was something that should have been delayed to be sure it was done right, this was it, in my opinion.

        And, again, it is just my opinion. I know many like the new system, and we can all still be friends! :)

      • Andang /

        I totally disagree Brax. There are a million easier free bullet points they could have made. Class changes are a tough choice that has high risk and there is no way they would risk it just to have another thing on the free side of things.

      • Maybe, but the fact is, not only did they list it as one of the “free” benefits of the expansion, they listed it first (the position normally reserved for your most powerful point): http://lotroplayers.mymiddleearth.com/2013/09/12/helms-deep-epic-story-to-require-expansion-purchase/

        Then again, I’m wrong a lot.

      • Andang /

        I would list it as the top feature too considering the others are always there in expansions but honestly I don’t think that is part of the motivation.
        After all the work they put into it though, it better be a box feature.

      • Well as Dev Verizal pointed out in the Forums Turbine know that ‘BALANCING’ is needed:
        The biggest thing to take into account with all of this, is that there is still a good deal of balancing to be done. You can expect adjustments to mob difficulty, damage and healing output, and stat caps to account for all of the changes, both itemization-related and not. As it stands, yes, many classes have little use for defensive stats…
        Thanks to Roger on Forums: https://www.lotro.com/forums/showthread.php?534687-Upcoming-12-1-Patch-Has-No-DPS-Adjustments-Faceroll-Gameplay-Continues&highlight=overpowered

        Just wish they would do it now rather than later…

      • Kaleigh Starshine /

        Just to give the full picture of what Verizal said, here is the reat of what he wrote in that paragraph:

        “…and many people are sitting on or near a number of stat caps. This will change, however, and my intent is to have you be at a point where you will need to make conscious decisions on what you wear in order to progress through some of the harder challenges in the game.”

        A few points:

        1. The last part of that sentence (“some of the harder challenges of the game”) tells you where the impact of this rebalancing is likely to be.

        2. It is very unclear how we will be able to make conscious decisions with our items that will have more than a minute effect on our powers.

        With our basic stats (Might, Agility and such) being so high, their contribution to the derived stats (Evade, Physical and Tactical Mastery, and so on) is of a higher proportion than ever before relative to those derived stats being given to us directly by our items.

        What I mean by that is, say, you are a Scout (Burglar!), and you are wearing armor that gives 217 Agility and 563 Physical Mastery (These are the exact stats from the crafted gear). The 217 Agility is giving you 2,170 Physical Mastery on its own, nearly 4 times the Physical Mastery given by the armor directly.

        And all of the teal items currently have the same stat contribution: 217 to you main stat (Might, Agility, or Will depending) and 186 Vitality, or have them in reverse: 217 Vitality and 186 to your Main Stat.

        What this means is, the areas where we can actually make a choice in what we wear to affect things, it is only affecting the derived stats, and therefore will have little effect on the end result. I do not see how anything short of a complete itemization redo could change this.

        3. Due to the uniformity of the new items’ powers as shown above, if Stat Caps are put in to artificially reduce the contribution of our items to our power, it will not only do so for *everyone*, but it will do so with virtually no way to not be capped, nor allow for any ‘conscious decision’ to prevent it, aside from wearing items made for a different class (Champions wearing WIll items and such).

        This would result in a lot of irate people, I think :) There is nothing so frustrating at having no control whatsoever regarding hitting walls like these.

        4. Verizal has to see these points as well. I think this is actually more evidence that the ease that currently exists was originally intended, rather than a mistake. There is simply no room within the restrictions of the items as they stand now to have much of an impact with regard to our power.

        I think there has been a bit more resistance to how easy things have become than the Overlords expected, and they are trying to backspin a little. But, as I stated above, I do not see how anything short of a complete review of the new itemization would allow for much of a change.

        5. Given all the evidences of the trends toward ease and simplification, and those within Helm’s Deep itself, I think it can be pretty safely stated that, even with whatever is to come in this regard, the difficulty in our adventures here will be far less than it was before the changes.

  6. Love the monster episode! More like this, maybe discussing … oh… various classes. ;)

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