The Lord of the Rings Online Preview (PC)

Since arriving on the MMO scene in 2007, you can’t help but feel sorry for Lord of the Rings Online. Despite being one of the best online RPGs since Everquest, its highly polished exterior and loyal fan base have failed to draw subscribers away from World of Warcraft. Coming up against Blizzard’s behemoth is akin to climbing Everest – no matter what the IP, no-one seems to be able to stop its dominance.

Having quickly realised its facing a losing battle, Turbine and Warner Brothers have altered the subscription model to Free to Play (with the release of the Shadows of Angmar content pack). It’s an intelligent decision and one that will certainly appease those who refuse to pay for monthly play. We jumped into Middle Earth to see how the quest for the One Ring is coming along.

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The biggest difference you’ll notice (especially if you’ve played WoW) is the player numbers. LOTRO’s server list is substantially lower in an effort to encourage the smaller numbers to come together. Even so, in the starter areas and less popular areas, you’ll often feel as though you’re alone (at least on UK time zones).

This is perfect for those who enjoy singleplayer questing without the annoyance of others, but if you’re after a teeming atmosphere, it’ll struggle to satisfy you desire. The immediate lack of players can also complicate group instances, but the inclusion of a helpful Find-A-Group system attempts to rectify this.

Hopefully, when the game moves over to F2P, we’ll see some improvement. The subscription barrier is still in place and it obviously still has an impact. There’s no date set (bar an open-ended Fall) for the game to go free, but it’ll be supported by a micropayment system for those who wish to better their characters through real-life monetary means. They’ll also be a VIP option for those who wish to go a step further for unlimited Premium content as well as more character slots / points to spend in the LOTRO Store.

It’s definitely a lucrative offer, especially when you compare it to the other F2P MMOs. They all have hefty user bases and LOTRO’s quality suggests it won’t be too hard to take a leap of faith. Undeniably they’ll be those that’ll stick with their respective MMOs, especially when you consider the time they’ve invested into their accounts, but for casual players who are looking an equivalent fix, it’s perfect.

The Lord of the Rings licence is particularly prevalent in the gaming subconscious and thankfully it’s been beautifully realised in LOTRO. Even three years on, the game still looks gorgeous (having originally boasted DirectX 10 functionality) and Turbine seem to be masters at digitally-recreating fantasy worlds.

There’s a gigantic space to explore complete with all the iconic settlements and characters you’d expect. It really is criminal that it’s been overlooked by so many and perhaps, if it’d arrived a year before Blizzard’s flagship title, we’d be talking a completely different story. Nothing beats strolling into Bree for the first time; it makes you feel like a virtual tourist, pointing out everything from the novels.

It’s everything you expect a MMO to be. That said, aside from the Level 10 (upwards) Monster Play (where it’s your chance to co-level an ‘evil’ character), Lord of the Rings Online doesn’t do anything particularly groundbreaking. The majority of quests involve slaying a certain number of beasts, collecting a quota of items or simply being a messenger.

That’s not to suggest LOTRO is a dull affair. The game sprinkles a layer on lore and narrative over its grind to make you feel as though you’re playing the films / books. It’s something that’s lost in rival titles and it’s great to see every quest receive the same amount of care.

Elsewhere you’ve got the expected classes / races (after all, Lord of the Rings wrote the book on gaming fantasy) that are typically balanced. Tanks, DPS, Ranged Combat (the game helpfully outlines which is which in the extensive creation tools) all feature, supporting each other accordingly. If you find yourself getting bored with the grind, there’s an assortment of stereotypical crafting professions to pursue.

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Rounding off the package are player-titles, achievements (deeds in LOTRO) and a customizable interface. It’s all there to ensure your transition is as easy, and addictive, as possible. If it’s a feature in an opposing game, it’ll be found in LOTRO.

With plenty of existing content to get through and a healthy level of development support promised, it’s hard to not recommend LOTRO. Many don’t have time for World of Warcraft, but having played LOTRO, it’s easy to indulge while maintaining a healthy social life / full time job. It does lack that special sheen that others have, but for the meantime, it’s the best F2P MMO out there.

Once it goes free, you don’t really have an excuse.


By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Aug 25, 2010
I feel sorry for this game too. But I will give it a chance one day.
By Dark_Templar (SI Veteran Newbie) on Aug 25, 2010
MMORPGs... I have given them up a looong time ago.