In an RPG/MMORPG/MMOG your character usually starts at level 1 with only very few abilities, and some time later reaches the level cap, at which point it possesses a whole multitude of those. In some systems abilities are not only tied to character level (or any measure of progression), but are found, earned or acquired from drops, quests or talents/traits; however, the general notion is: you start with few, you end up with lots. Still, there are different ways to get from A to B, and today I’d like to compare two, as I have become aware recently, radically different approaches.
World of Warcraft. Of course. My Warrior is a level 28 now. Let’s have a look at the gameplay. At this point, my choice of offensive skills is very limited (and before anyone wonders, yes, the Warrior is a very offensive-minded class). Without being improved by specific talents, most of them are rather weak, highly conditional or simply inefficient. As an example, I know I’ll get the Slam ability at level 30 – but without either a talent deep down the Arms tree or another talent even deeper down the Fury tree, to use it not only isn’t beneficial, it’s actually detrimental to your damage output. Strictly speaking, in a regular single-target fight, I have 2-3 skills for doing damage, and 2-3 skills for tanking. They overlap for a total of 4; mostly just a shift in priorities.
At the same time, though, I already have lots of “tricky” abilities, that are there not just for the sake of purely dealing damage. I can strengthen the attacks of all nearby fellows, weaken the attacks of all nearby foes or fear them into running away, attract several enemies at once with damage or shouts, hamstring, disarm, shield wall, shield block and so on. Not everything is a “regular single-target fight”, after all – the most exciting things are not. So, it’s far from being dull, although the “daily grind” part isn’t at its most exciting either.
So, what’s the perspectives? The perspectives are rather friendly, but only mid- to long-term. In either spec, the actual and typical style of play doesn’t really enter until you get down the talent tree a good bit. Which is, I think, definitely a good thing, because that really makes the different specs radically different, rather than slightly coloured flavours of one and the same thing. On the flip side, however, it means I’ll have to stick to my 3-skill-rotations until about level 50. From what I understand, and have researched so far, it’s pretty much the same for most if not all classes and specs. Is this bad? Actually, no. It means there will be significant development and evolution of the things I can do and how I can do them all the way to the golden 80. And then, I’ll rightly sit down and say “okay, and now, let’s optimize this!” – which is a good thing, because I like it.
LotRO. Here, the opposite approach. Taking the example of the Champion (surprise!), when you reach level 20 and get your Relentless Strike, it’s your seventh or eighth attack skill. That’s certainly some variety early on. It is, however, also pretty much the last significant attack skill you ever get. For the next 40 levels you will be gifted mostly with “utility” – the stuff you were not bothered with in the beginning. You learn to clobber and hamstring, to self-heal and recover power; you get short-duration self-buffs and a short-duration AoE-stun; a few upgrades on your original skills. Things like that.
Basically, the class is done and deployed at level 20. After that, it’s just “rounding out the edges”. The way you fight will not significantly change thereafter. Or, well, it might, but it will be due to your having learned or discovered something new, rather than your character having done that. It’s maybe a little radical in the case of the Champion, but the trend is strong and omnipresent: lots of class-defining abilities up front, rounding out edges and potentially adding versatility later.
Is this bad? Not really, either. There is something to be said about giving people things to play with early on, letting them feel the class and where it’s going, how it’s going to be, right away. But it also turns the levelling process a little bit anti-climatic, when you keep expecting some new awesome skill or ability, but all you get are things you won’t use more than once a week. I guess it was also a reason, why I’d invariably lose interest in an alt somewhere around the mid-twenties latest – when all is set and learned and all that changes from there on is the colour of the icons.
To sum it up: WoW will withhold crucial rotation skills or the ability to efficiently use them from you until late in the game, while feeding you complementary abilities along the entire path. LotRO will let you have your rotation right away to enjoy and have fun with, at the price of reducing later gains to being mostly supplemental. Both approaches have their pros and cons.