MOTU came out 3-4 months ago. At the time I was extremely excited. Now I'm noticing PUG raids taking ages to fill, a sharp fall in players online in every channel I'm in (one from ~30 to ~6) and just a lot less activity in-game.
What's happened? What can be done to turn it around? Here's an attempt to answer that.
This feedback is intended to be constructive but honest and not sugar-coated.
Firstly, there's the issue with MOTU's capstone, the Caught in the Web raid, disappointing most players. (I'm in the minority that like the raid but I'll acknowledge this is a real issue). However one of DDO's most popular releases, Gianthold, also had a disappointing raid, so this certainly isn't the only issue. DDO did well during the period after Gianthold's release.
TLR: The problems are more than one unpopular raid.
Secondly, there's the total lack of any medium difficulty options. Early in the game's life, DDO's strength was that you could generally pick a difficulty level that was suited to your group. Heroic ADQ1 is fun for a typical PUG on Normal, but a well-prepared, geared group can instead take on Elite. And if your group is weaker than average you have the option of Casual.
Epic Elite is there whenever you have your guild or channel's A-team together and are in the mood for some challenge. But if your group isn't up to that, your only option is Epic Hard which is so easy that, with the exception of the Bat and Monkey wings of ADQ1, I do not think I have ever seen a group with a healer type fail to overcome any combat encounters in EH on their first attempt. (Soloing is different but that's an unrelated issue related to how powerful healing is in this game.)
So if you are in the best 10% or so of players you have EE as an option. If you are in the worst 10% of players, EH is tuned for you. But for the middle 80%, there is literally nothing. These are the people that completed old epic Chronoscope but never led a group, the sort that PUGged TOD on Hard (maybe never without pots) but never beat Elite, the sorts that ran old epic VON6 often but could never solo a base, and the sorts that ran old Epic Into the Deep but never split the party to speedrun it.
Even as a player that prefers higher difficulty settings, I come across issues here as I can't carry PUGs through Epic Elite runs - the setting is hard enough to generally require 3 or 4 competent people. So if I can't find those trusted people, I can't really run EE and wind up being bored in EH.
Without a medium difficulty setting, where will the next generation of players develop the skills they'll need in EE?
TLR: There's no difficulty setting aimed at the majority of high level players, just three settings aimed at the worst 10% (and soloists) and one aimed at the best 10%. In particular there's nothing for the player that aspires to get into EE but is not yet knowledgable/skilled enough.
Thirdly, there's the way that game mechanics for character advancement reward 'un-fun' things.
This I feel is the big one. Unchecked, I believe this issue will kill the game in time.
Want to unlock Twists of Fate? Then you need to surrender a good deal of your character's power by swapping into a non-synergistic destiny. Then you go and run House of Rusted Blades 30+ times in a row (or one of the other two quests, or previously challenges). Does anyone actually enjoy spam-running those quests? I would hazard a guess that fewer than 5% of players enjoy their 50th run of HoRB and less still enjoy their 200th. Those runs feel more like work than playing a game.
The silly thing is, there's lots of fun things to do still in DDO. But progress towards character goals comes at such a glacial pace when running anything other than the 'optimal' path that there is a real tension between having fun and developing your character.
Add to this issues with item drop rates never having been rethought now that the 'epic' items of old are mostly stepping stones to new equipment. Epic Spectral Gloves are every bit as rare now as they were back when they were the best melee gloves in the game.
TLR: Character advancement is too closely tied to near-mindless repetition of dull content. Yet certain levels of character advancement feels somewhat mandatory to run intense content.
Suggestion to address this: A total overhaul of the XP system so that players hit a point where they feel finished with XP without spam-running quests, a total overhaul of per-quest and per-difficulty-setting XP rewards so that players can run their most enjoyed difficulty setting rather than feeling pressured to run settings they don't enjoy and a total overhaul of item drop rates so that getting the absolute best items is difficult and prestigious but getting 'almost but not quite best' items is much faster.
Most of all, any time a large section of the playerbase says 'Quest A might be fun on difficulty setting X, but running it on anything other than Y is a waste of time', this means you need to consider adjusting rewards for X upwards.
Fourth, and somewhat related, there's the way that the XP system has killed off alts.
When the level cap was 16, most active endgame players had at least one character of each main archetype that was raid-ready. Of course we all had our mains that would shine in Elite runs and our oddball builds that might stay in Normal, but alts were common.
These characters weren't 'completed'. Very few players had more than one character with two Greensteel accessories and two weapons, for instance, much less all the +3 tomes they wanted. But these alts were there, ready to be swapped in for a raid any time.
Now, I don't know many endgame players that have more than two or three characters they would feel comfortable bringing into a medium difficulty epic elite (say House of Rusted Blades with Matron or Trial By Fury).
TLR: The game feels entirely different on a different type of toon and alts add a lot to the game. Let's bring them back.
Fifth, there's a few really, really obnoxious bugs that just need to be splattered.
UMD recalculation lag and the FVS aura lag are the worst offenders.
Alongside this, the entire GM system needs to be overhauled so that GMs are able to fix problems, and where a fix is impossible, to grant some form of character advancement as compensation. (Example: You page a GM because Epic Elite VON1 bugs out just before Deadheart the Unbeaten. The actual problem is beyond the GM's ability to solve, so to compensate they force-complete the quest, which awards full completion XP, then spawn the epic chest for Epic Hard difficulty - one difficulty down because your group hadn't quite completed the quest objectives). GMs should know the game well and be able to use their judgement (which would be final) with supervisors checking for any player-GM collusion.
TLR: Kill the worst bugs. Make GMs better.
Sixth, and finally, there's the way that poorly thought out repurcussions for failure in several important quests/raids have made the playerbase risk-advese.
Let me ask you a question. How often do you see Epic Elite VON6 attempted?
The answer is - very seldom. Not because EE VON6 is so hard that only a few people can complete it. And not because the rewards are poor (they are significantly better than EH). The reason is that it is a miserable experience to fail VON6.
When the level cap was 14, I remember taking 10 or 12 attempts to down Lailat in Elite ADQ1 and later a similar number of tries to down Cholthuzz in Elite Ghosts of Perdition. Each time we failed, we had someone hold the instance while we all returned for another try.
But a large number of important raids now heavily penalize failure by forcing you to repeat dull content to retry the raid after a failure. LOB and MA are worst, but they aren't the only ones
This led to a widespread fear of failure among the playerbase. I remember how hard it was to fill a Normal LOB group (pre MOTU) to test a new strategy out because people were so risk avoiding. Likewise it is hard for first-timers to get into some raids.
TLR: After a total party wipe, groups should be able to get straight back to reattempt the encounter that defeated them, just as they can in ADQ2 or the Reaver's Fate. This would make higher difficulty settings more appealing to attempt.