Hooray! The Farmer’s Faire is upon us at last! Future posts will certainly be dedicated to the cosmetics you can acquire from this fun event, (already there are some real gems), but I’ll go into greater detail about the Faire in those posts. For now, I just wanted to share some thoughts I have on cosmetics, outfitting and the more ‘fluff’ aspects of LOTRO generally. Apologies in advance if this brief musing seems at all didactic. My only intention is to express my opinions, obvious as they may seem, and hopefully encourage you to share yours. Please feel free to comment and don’t be afraid to tell me what you think!
As I threw myself into the Farmer’s Faire quests, hurriedly collecting as many tokens as possible in order to barter for cosmetics, I found that more and more players were dumping cold water over everything. In less than an hour of the event being active it and its reward cosmetics were already being described as ‘worthless’ and ‘a waste of time.’ It astonishes me to hear this because such a miserable perspective seems so at odds with the point of cosmetics and events, (for the purposes of this discussion, I’m ignoring arbitrary trolling and instead focusing on sincere disdain).
Certainly, I am in no way an endgame player. I secured gear strong enough to be able to participate in instances that reward a lot of Medallions, in order to have an easy way of supplying myself with Skirmish Marks. In this way, any cosmetics or crafting items at the Skirmish Camp are but a brief exchange away. Generally, though, having the best gear and the most upgraded Legendary Items doesn’t interest me at all. Once Candle was strong enough to complete these instances successfully, it didn’t strike me as essential to then grind to be stronger than necessary. Though I may indeed look forward to rewards that could enhance Candle’s stats, I do not actively strive for them.
Of course, if I were a PVMP player, the same could not be said. In the ever-changing world of player combat, it would stand to reason to try and be as strong as possible at all times. However, for the purposes of this discussion, the focus is on unchanging PVE instances in between game updates. Obviously, MMOs are, by definition, not unchanging and are constantly being updated with new challenges. This discussion, however, addresses the time in between updates, specifically towards the latter half of the most recent update, as LOTRO is now. In other words, those players who are interested in endgame have the vast majority of the best gear they can get and are waiting for the next update so they can continue to advance.
It has always seemed to me, then, that once this stage has been reached the game grinds to a halt. Once your toon has the best gear possible, you have become the pinnacle of your class and are irrefutably prepared to face any challenge, surely you find you have absolutely nothing to do. Until the next update, what more can you do with yourself? This view is somewhat justified by the sheer amount of such players beginning all over again with alternative toons. As if, once their primary toon has reached the utter end of endgame, they start again with another class and power their way through to the end once more. If this presumption is true, it obviously comes with an inherently cyclical problem: Toon A reaches the end, Toon B is begun, Toon B reaches the end, Toon C is begun, and so on. This is also perhaps one area in which outfitting has the advantage over endgame play. With cosmetics there is no ‘end,’ as items can be recycled over and over in an infinite variety of looks and themes.
Now, before continuing it should be made clear that I have absolutely no problem with this whatsoever. I do not wish to pass judgement on endgame players or disparage the admirable effort of raising many toons to level cap. Having a variety of powerful classes at your disposal of course benefits everyone looking for group play, and as an extension benefits the server as a whole. I also do not mean to comment on professional players, or anyone who works hard to maximise their toons for a specific out-of-game purpose. The issue of this discussion is purely the recognition of different styles of gameplay. I have always maintained that we all play games for very different reasons. We all have our individual goals and aspects of the game we enjoy the most. As such I cannot help but take umbrage when I hear one of the aspects of the game I enjoy being described as worthless. Not because I necessarily disagree, but because it strikes me as both so completely unimportant, and as a failure to recognise those aspects for what they are.
Of course cosmetics and fluff can be described as a waste of time. That’s precisely what they are for the vast majority of people, yet wholly positively, not negatively. Cosmetic outfitting in LOTRO is a wonderful hobby and a diversion, not necessarily core gameplay. Indeed, the entire ethos of cosmetics can be encapsulated in the system itself – cosmetics do not affect armour or player stats, they sit aside and apart from those more core aspects. Therefore, to disparage them by calling them worthless, (as in having no practical benefit), is nonsensical because that is precisely what they are – cosmetics are worth-less, they have no practicable use, were never intended to and nor should they. An analogous and equally absurd argument could be to complain that liquid is too wet. Of course it’s wet, it’s liquid! That’s what liquid is.
Cosmetics exist to enhance our enjoyment of gameplay. They allow us to express our individuality and add to the sense of accomplishment in game. As we advance and strive to make our toons stronger we are rewarded with greater access to cosmetics, specifically those which are rarer and more valuable, (both cosmetically and literally). Without needing our gear to be inspected, we are able to proudly display our cosmetic rewards as signs of our achievements. For this reason, it simply does not seem rational to state that any player does not value the cosmetic system. Even if a player dresses their toon in an armour set from the Tower of Orthanc raid, complete with a Draigoch cloak, it seems extraordinarily unlikely that they are doing this as a renunciation of the cosmetics system. Though some very well way, much more likely is the fact that they are proud to display a good-looking and well-matched armour set because it reflects the effort put into and the experience gained from creating a powerful toon. In this way, every player finds some worth in cosmetics even if they do not actively work towards pure cosmetics and outfitting.
The same argument of cosmetics enhancing gameplay can of course be extended to festivals and other such fluff aspects of LOTRO. Annual festivities surely bolster player morale and add to the sense of a living, breathing game world that exists in its own time, reflecting our world in seasonal festivals that we recognise and enjoy. They also contribute towards the lore that is the very foundation of LOTRO. It makes sense that the farmers of the agricultural Shire would have a faire celebrating their summer bounty. In this way, NPCs become less like blocks of pixels and data and more like actual characters, existing within a culture that evolves and grows. Such events are purely experiential. Again, there is not a practicable benefit because there is not supposed to be. The game cannot entirely be raids and instances because it would be far too repetitive, bordering on the monotonous. Variations in pace, especially ones that reflect the lore on which the game is based, (i.e. the Shire is less action-packed than Isengard), can only be positive because they act as foils for that which they are not. In other words, a calm festival with silly outfits and fluff quests makes sincere raiding and high level instances all the more exciting and significant by contrast.
Ultimately, it seems important to value all aspects of the game, and not simply those which you yourself enjoy the most. As aforementioned, we all play the game for different reasons, and trite though it may sound, as long as they are within the confines of legal and good gameplay, none of these reasons is any better or worse than any other. So value cosmetics, events and fluff. We can all surely agree to be grateful to the developers for providing such a wealth of colour and variety to LOTRO, for all players regardless of level or quest packs. Hooray for fluff, festivals and fun times!