LOTRO offers trial accounts which are good for ten days, but they have some limitations that put a damper on my testing. You cannot use the mail system or the auction system with a trial account. This means it's not viable to utilize an alt, nor can you sell any of your wares. While this seems like a logical security decision, it can be problematic for crafters. Since I was unable to use the auction to sell my goodies, the only way I could earn money was through quests. This meant I had to keep leveling up just to earn money for vendor materials. I was also unable to get any sense of the economy and see if my crafted goods were viable. Those of you who might want to investigate this before you commit to a box fee will be out of luck. Also, I was unable to use alts for bank sitting or gathering purposes, or even just to trade valuable materials to the proper toon. I needed to keep my character self-contained so she could provide whatever items I needed to craft.
This seems like it shouldn't be a problem, but LOTRO is not like WoW when it comes to selecting a tradeskill. Tradeskills are bundled together in LOTRO - you can't pick and choose which three you want to learn. Each bundle is called a "Vocation" and there are seven of them.
- Armouror = Metalsmith | Prospector | Tailor
- Armsman = Prospector | Weaponsmith | Woodworker
- Explorer = Forester | Prospector | Tailor
- Historian = Farmer | Scholar | Weaponsmith
- Tinker = Cook | Jeweler | Prospector
- Woodsman = Farmer | Forester | Woodworker
- Yeoman = Cook | Farmer | Tailor
The only reason I can see for designing professions this way is to force dependencies, unless there's something I'm missing about this setup. Generally two of the professions will complement each other and one will be an oddball. Depending on which profession you want, it could be a challenge to set up a self-sufficient toon for it. My original plan was to have one Explorer toon (two gathering skills) and one Armsman toon (two production skills). This would enable me to try two different trades and see how they worked while just leveling up the Explorer. But I had to revise my plan after discovering the mail access problem, so I switched to a Woodsman to get Forestry + Woodworking.
Each gathering profession appears to have a tracking ability, at least of the two that I tried. Farming also comes with a tracking ability for "forage" items (veggies, fruit, etc). You can only track one item at a time, and tracking has a cooldown of 10 seconds. I guess this is to prevent players from creating a macro to auto-toggle between two types of tracking. One nice thing I noticed about the tracking system is that it shows nearby nodes that are off your map with a blue arrow. I don't think the range is huge, but it's nice to have it show something that's slightly out of range of your mini-map. Or perhaps it could be a way to compensate for the lack of controls on the mini-map, I never figured out how to modify the settings.
When you first get into the game, you're in a starter area that you must play through. There don't appear to be any profession trainers in these locations, so it would be hard for you to start crafting before level 5 or so. The starting zones are locked and you cannot leave until you complete the final storyline quest. Once you exit the newbie zone you're free to wander at will. It's possible that you could get a higher level character to transport you out sooner, but if you're new to the game you'll probably have to level up a bit before you can jump into crafting.
Each craft has a tool that's required to perform actions for that craft. The proper tool must be equipped in your "craft tool" slot in order to perform actions for that tradeskill. This includes gathering, you need to have an axe equipped for forestry and a pick for prospecting. If you have multiple gathering professions, it can be annoying to swap tools as you run around. Also, most professions require a workstation of some sort. So you cannot craft items while you're out questing, this is something that's needs to be done in town. There are a pretty good number of towns which have crafting stations, so this shouldn't be a huge limiting factor. But if you're adventuring and run out of bag space, you'll probably just have to delete something.
Professions in LOTRO work on the tier system that WoW also uses. There are significant differences though. Tiers in LOTRO actually have multiple layers to them. When you unlock the first tier, you have 200 skill points needed to move up from Apprentice to Journeyman. Once you complete the first 200 points, you unlock the second tier AND the mastery portion of the first tier. If you continue to make tier 1 items, you get points towards Mastery. Mastery in Tier 1 requires 400 points and it unlocks extra abilities such as critical successes, optional ingredients for better items, as well as the mastery option for the next tier.
This reminded me a lot of some of the ideas we've been tossing around to enable dedicated crafters to specialize their wares. I didn't really have time to fully explore this portion of the crafting system, but it looked to me as if the modifications were fairly static. Unlocking the Mastery option gives you a 5% chance to increase your item output (like a proc) or get bonus stats on the final item. There was also an option to add rare ingredients to boost your chances of a proc or bonus stat when crafting Mastery recipes. The rare ingredients weren't all that rare, I ended up with a couple dozen of them just in the course of playing through 2 toons to level 10. This is an interesting idea, but it wouldn't surprise me if it ends up being the same situation we have in WoW where everyone does all the Mastery tiers in order to unlock the beefiest items.
Another difference in LOTRO leveling is that each item you make gives multiple skill points, not just one. Component pieces tend to give less points than finished items, but the range appears to be from 4 - 8 points per item. For my first tier, I made 20 bowstaves which I then crafted into 20 bows. Because I got 4 points per bowstave and 6 points per bow, I easily hit the 200 point cap with just 20 items. Now if you wanted to complete the Mastery portion of the first tier, you'd need to keep crafting Tier 1 items. Mastery of tier 1 requires 400 points, so you'd have to make another 40 bows to unlock the Mastery abilities. The good news about this is that you continue to get the full skill points for each Tier 1 item within the Tier 1 rank. As long as you have points to earn in Tier 1, each Tier 1 item you make earns full points. This works even if you're also working on proficiency in the next tier, you can switch back and forth between tiers that are unlocked. From what I can tell LOTRO doesn't have the concept of a missed skill point or a lower chance to get points for lower skill items. Tier 1 items always count towards Tier 1 skills, but you cannot get skill points for Tier 2 from Tier 1 items. There is no crossover that I can see. If you want to earn points in Tier 2, you need to make Tier 2 items. It's certainly an interesting way of leveling your skill. I like the idea of getting full credit for any item made in the appropriate tier.
While it seems like the leveling process is easy, the Proficiency and Mastery values scale upward with each tier. By the time you reach the final sixth tier, you'll have to earn 600 points for proficiency level and 1200 points for Mastery. So there looks to be a bigger time/craft commitment as you work your way up the ranks. Of course, I was able to get through the first two tiers of proficiency in about 15 hours of game time. This includes all of my gathering and questing up to level 12, but I still think this was fairly easy. If I had auction house access or a high level toon to help me avoid the questing (aka money grind) I probably could have saved at least half of that time.
Something else that LOTRO imposes on crafters is the concept of durability, which is applied to crafting tools as well as gear. When you're out in the field collecting materials, your tools will lose durability and break. This also applies when you're at the crafting station making items, eventually they break as well. You need to repair your tools on a regular basis in order to continue using them. Normally I don't think this would be a huge problem, but for a money-challenged noob like me it was annoying. It also inhibits your ability to spend hours in the field, since you'll have to find a vendor from time to time who can fix your tools. My experience was that I lost 1 point of durability for each action. The tools you receive from the trainer have 30 durability, but there are vendors who sell tools with higher durability.
One thing that I appreciated was that new tiers of recipes were unlocked as soon as I hit the cap, I didn't have to visit a trainer to unlock them. They don't seem to have traditional trainers in LOTRO, who teach you individual recipes. Instead trainers give you quests that unlock the next tier of skill points. You get some basic recipes when you unlock a new tier and you can purchase additional recipes from profession vendors. From what I've seen at various LOTRO web sites, they also have drop recipes. Since I could not access the auctions, I couldn't verify this.
LOTRO also has the concept of factions, although I was unable to explore this very much. I ran into a couple of factions who offered me quests and ways to gain reputation with them. I also found some crafting guild NPCs in the major city of Bree. Crafters are allowed to join a crafting guild when they reach Expert level crafting (Tier 3). I was unable to unlock Expert Woodcrafting because there was a quest I needed to complete first. The quest required me to kill a level 20 mob (possibly elite, the comments on the guy were conflicting) and collect level 20ish wood. I actually found the wood while I was looking for the dude, but the dude kicked my arse. So that was the end of that plan, lol! After perusing the LOTRO wiki site, they said that after I join the Woodworking Guild I'll be able to do daily crafting tasks which will increase my rep with the Guild. When I reach certain faction levels, I'll be able to buy recipes from them. In this scenario it appears that a crafting guild is functioning much like a faction does for WoW.
After getting stuck in Woodcrafting, I decided to try my hand at Farming/Cooking. Farming appears to be more of a gathering profession, but it's more time consuming than a traditional gathering skill. You need to buy seeds/water/compost from a vendor and then plant a crop. When the plants spawn, you harvest them. Sometimes you get a "poor" crop, which can be turned into extra seeds. Sometimes you get a fair crop, which can be used as a cooking ingredient. Often you get some of both. After you harvest, you return to your workbench to process the crops into seeds or food items. You get skill points for both steps: planting and processing. I spent a few hours working on this and got my Farming skill through the second tier. I went into this thinking it would be an interesting new tradeskill and was looking forward to trying it out. After the first hour, I reached the conclusion that farming was quite boring. You spend most of your time watching progress bars. It takes about 25 seconds to "plant" a crop and around 10 seconds to "process" each harvested item. So I would buy my supplies and then plant 2-4 crops in the field. Each harvest yields 2-10 crop items, with an average of about 5 items collected. Basically you walk to the field and wait for progress bars to plant your crop. You pick those and walk to the bench to process each harvested item, staring at more progress bars. As I said, it got pretty boring.
I also tried Cooking a little bit. Sadly, I was practically out of money at this point, so I could only level up through the first tier. From what I saw, Cooking is a bit more complex in LOTRO than in WoW. There are often 3-4 ingredients per recipe and they are pretty dependent on Farming materials. It would be hard to go far with Cooking if you didn't have Farming. I was able to make a few things just with vendor materials, but this wouldn't actually generate any buff foods. Mostly you'd be creating components for more complex recipes. You could probably level up this way, but it wouldn't be of much value to you. There is also very little need for looted items like critter meats. I only saw a couple of recipes that used critter meat in the first tier of Cooking. It's possible that situation changes higher up the ladder.
One thing I noticed in Woodworking that seemed to also be true in other professions is a very structured leveling tree. The recipes you get in Tier 1 are likely to closely mirror the recipes in Tier 2, just with higher level components. There doesn't appear to be much variation between the tiers that I was able to unlock. Again, this could change at higher levels, but I saw no indication of that in the first 3 levels of Woodworking or 2 levels of Farming.
LOTRO does have crafting quests which are quite similar to WoW's old crafting quests. An NPC will ask you to acquire a crafted item, you return when you have it. If you don't have the correct profession, I guess you need to find someone to make it for you. The only ones you can realistically do are the ones that actually match your tradeskill. During my time in LOTRO, I only ran across one that I could finish (Cooking). On the other hand, if you had a full account with Auction access, you could probably buy the necessary items. Still, there are just a handful of quests per tradeskill, so it's not a situation where you can legitimately level via Crafting.
In general, I think the main positive in the LOTRO crafting system is the idea of Mastery. It's an interesting concept, although I suspect it's still too simplistic to work in a game like WoW. It's possible that it works for LOTRO because they have a smaller player base and therefore less players are willing to put extra effort into Professions. If this exact system were used in WoW I don't think it would be challenging enough to weed out non-crafters. However, I give the LOTRO designers brownie points for trying to add more complexity to the process. Unfortunately LOTRO is not a game where you can pursue crafting as an alternative to leveling. There are quests in place that require killing to unlock new tiers for all of the primary professions. It's possible that you could have a Farmer alt who's a lowbie, but that's about the only one that wouldn't require leveling.
I felt like the leveling process for LOTRO crafting was very similar to WoW. You make items, you get skill points. Aside from the Mastery system, I didn't see anything truly special about the crafting process. And while I like the idea of the Mastery system, their implementation looked very basic in terms of the "proc" function (which WoW has) and the bonus stats. Since the bonus stats appeared to be static, akin to our "random stat" recipes, I don't think they achieved anything unique with it. From what I read about it, you have to pair a specific rare ingredient with a specific recipe to increase your chance of a bonus or proc result. A better implementation would have been to allow crafters to pair any Tier 1 rare ingredient with any Tier 1 recipe and produce different bonus stats depending on the combination used. I realize WoW doesn't have this sort of thing either, but LOTRO is a newer game that could have aimed higher than what WoW offers to crafters.
PROS: Multi-layered leveling process, mini-map tracks nodes off-screen, may be possible to level crafting on lowbies with help from higher toons
CONS: Bundled professions, Durability on crafting tools, not possible to level crafting on lowbies with no help, not possible to level via crafting
For more information on LOTRO you can check out their Wiki site: LOTRO WIKI