Eurogamer: Roughly how many times will I need to farm a dungeon to get enough points for something decent?
Jeffrey Steefel: It's meant to feel equivalent to a cool loot drop that I would get at the end of a raid or something like that. I don't want Skirmish Points to become an easier way of getting powerful items, and nor to we want it to be prohibitively difficult.
You also spend Skirmish Points on your Soldier.
Eurogamer: Ah, your AI robot fighter companion?
Jeffrey Steefel: Yep! You're allowed to bring one soldier to a Skirmish with you. Imagine if there's a 12-person Skirmish and each of us has our own Soldier, then there's 24 of us on one side.
I can spend Skirmish Points on cosmetic changes like different gear or hair; on different roles, essentially class roles; and levelling up their skills. Once I have those there's an interface that's very similar to our Trait slots and I can slot the skills or appearances in. I can start building a very large library for my soldier that allows me to respec and respec and respec him for each Skirmish if I want to.
Eurogamer: These AI Soldiers, can they only be used in Skirmishes?
Jeffrey Steefel: Yes.
Eurogamer: Are they exact mirrors of the standard LOTRO classes?
Jeffrey Steefel: Pretty much. They have different names, but you have your basic ranged, tank, healer, mage roles.
Eurogamer: Can Soldiers ever be as powerful as a player character?
Jeffrey Steefel: No. No. The intention is for this to be complimentary, not overpowering. A complimentary-specced Soldier can be very, very valuable.
Soldiers are also intentionally not pets you can control in real-time, they just behave like that class would behave. Trying to co-ordinate multiple objectives while controlling Soldiers seemed like too much. We want Skirmishes to be very accessible and very fun.
Eurogamer: Another feature of Siege of Mirkwood is a raised level cap - is this going to continue rising?
Jeffrey Steefel: We're providing a raised level-cap because we know players want it: they want those new challenges; they want to encounter content that is more challenging than before, therefore they need more powerful skills. We really are trying hard with this game to keep it from being a hamster-wheel game.
Eurogamer: Can you tell us about the changes to Legendary items and to combat, please?
Jeffrey Steefel: Sure. There's two major things we did with Legendary items. The first is changing the way identification works. When you first identify an item you get a lot more information than you used to about the Legacies that are going to be available. And as you grow that item there are more opportunities for more information. We also give you alternate items to re-slot or re-forge the new items that you're getting.
The whole purpose is to say, "You're going to know a heck of a lot more about a [Legendary] item as you're progressing it." If it's heading in a direction that's not going to give you what you're looking for you can stop spending time on it. Originally you had to grind all the way to the end, get it constructed and then find out. We got a tremendous amount of feedback from players about Legendary items - favourites, how balanced they are - and that influenced a lot of the re-balancing.
Combat is interesting, because it's the things that are the most subtle that are the things that take the most amount of effort. We spent a whole year working on making combat feel more snappy, particularly in melee, making fundamental changes to auto-attack.
Auto-attack is always on, even when you're triggering other skills. It's just that now those skills can interrupt auto-attack rather than wait for that combat cycle to finish first. It makes a big difference: when you execute a skill, it happens - no pausing.
We made some adjustments to the cool-downs of skills, but they're still there for all the reasons they were before, because we don't want you to 'spam'.
Eurogamer: Are melee classes a little more powerful now as a result?
Jeffrey Steefel: It's very very hard to avoid that, because there's all kinds of re-balancing. There are some things we wanted to do that we actually have not enabled, specifically for that reason.
Eurogamer: What kind of things?
Jeffrey Steefel: Oh, ah... I don't want to talk about them yet because we're still working through them. Ha. But it's mostly small, tweaky stuff. We tried to focus on the things that were going to make it speedier and snappier for everyone.
Eurogamer: OK, but are they still on the cards?
Jeffrey Steefel: Yep.