The Lord of the Rings Online Review (PC)

The crafty hobbitses make it to MMO’rdor where the fellowships have amassed to take the Witch-king down a peg or two, preferably three.

Fans of the LOTR universe have had to wait a long time for this day to arrive; numerous setbacks stalled the project nearly casting it back into the oblivion of Mount Doom. Fortunately after a complete overhaul things got moving again and now the MMO savages have their fresh meat to feast on. While it will understandably take longer to really see if LOTRO will shine or fizzle out in this now saturated genre, for the moment everything looks stellar.

Forget Elves, what’s wrong with a bit of mankind?
Cartography, perhaps the greatest idea ever?

You’ll see both new and fresh approaches as well as ‘tried and true’ methods abound in the game. If you’ve ever played a MMO previously like World of Warcraft or EverQuest, then you’ll feel practically at home almost instantly. By that I mean you can expect to see the standard turn-based combat, expectantly littered with ability cooldown timers popping up like rabbits. It’s a great method even if a little troublesome at times, but more importantly it stops the game becoming mindless click-fests.

The same applies for the classes available; of course they’re disguised more what with choosing between Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits and Men. Tanks, Healers, Ranged, Crowd Control, Buffers, Debuffers, DPS – there’s something for everyone. I myself have a predisposition for evil, thus the Warlock class from WoW is my kind of ‘hero’. While there is no clearly labelled Warlock to choose from in LOTRO, the Lore Master comes pretty close in similar abilities, so you can find what you like quickly enough. Playing a Hobbit Burglar, while certainly hysterical in description, can be a potent combination from both the racial and class bonuses/abilities.

One major difference between LOTRO and other traditional MMO’s out there is PvP. While most others let you go at it almost at the drop of a stun lock, you can only engage in combat with other players as a monster in Monster Play. This means that until you reach level 10 as a character you won’t have the opportunity to off some good guys. Once you do unlock Monster Play, you can take control of your own Orc etc and lob yourself into bloodlust frenzy. Even better, you possess the monsters at high levels so you can dish some nice punishment for those daring to oppose Sauron. This doesn’t mean you can go anywhere as the bad guy, you are limited to designated zones so you can’t harass anyone who doesn’t want to participate. So as you can guess LOTRO is dominantly a PvE affair and the game is obviously geared toward that end.

Big points for Turbine here, new players won’t be swamped in information or left just mashing the keyboard (too much) as your taken into the game through an easy tutorial. Most tutorials tend to be impersonal or disconnected from the immersion, but you’ll be guided through with every bit feeling worth while and entertaining. Plus this rigid structure in the beginning helps you to ease into what the MMO life expects out of you as a mere mortal player. By around level 8 you’ll be free to practically go off and explore as you want as the shelter of the n00b lands runs dry of experience.

I summon forth my mighty black wing …raven!
LOTRO holds a lot of power in its deed system alone, its just great

There’s a lot of beauty in this online Middle-Earth, you can traverse entire landscapes with every bit detailed well. If you have high-end hardware powering your rig then make sure to crank up the settings to really enjoy the ride. It’s usually a difficult affair to strike that balance between gorgeous visuals and server efficiency, Turbine have done a great job in not sacrificing their vision of these mystical lands. Obviously you won’t be seeing quality quite like the movies but forests, towns, mountains all feel on the mark.

Now, how’s the cut of the grind? It’s fantastic; Turbine must have had a real good number of brain storming sessions to deliver the Deed system. While the usual experience slugging out in the fields is still present, players get tangible rewards along the way which aren’t tied into levels. For example to qualify for the title ‘Spider-foe’ you need to kill 30 spiders, after that you can unlock the next which will give you more vitality and poison resistance. These are all kept neat and tidy in the Deeds log, which splits to categorize the deeds into race, class and the regions. Some need you to find a Bard in town to have your earned deeds applied to you. It’s a great way to keep you busy, they can range from say ‘kill 30 of’ whatever to ‘use 600 times’ of a certain weapon or power. It decentralizes the burden of grind and advancement from story-driven quests; players can go off and work on their fancy titles from region to region.

While the general advancement techniques in LOTRO are surprisingly effective and fun, crafting and general professions comes as a mixed blessing. Crafting itself can be great, there’s no problem here but the other components to careers in Middle-Earth are …a little off. When you choose a career you actually undertake three separate skills to be improved. Farming is on such skill but has proven to be, well, boring and generally useless right now. These little woes tie into the economy which is going through early growing pains as player counts on servers’ increases. Put simply, as not many have played the game for very long people generally don’t know what they can get away with price wise. Future updates have promised to address this troubles and help the professions become a better focus, right now they tend to bust players piggy banks more than help line their pockets – everyone is rather tight pursed in Middle-Earth.

Generally the client is healthy and well, but there have been times it has been missing in action. Another symptom of growing pains, large numbers of players in towns can cause some serious lag issues, tweaking ones options (like name overheads) can really help cut down the hurt. This can be said for practically all MMO’s out there, they simply need to wait for numbers to stabilise more so they can fine tune their servers better. For the most part their have been little troubles, I’ve yet to be slapped with any crashes so fingers crossed.

Quests, while given the LOTR flavour, are basically going to be what a MMO fan can expect to see. A few minor script bugs are sprinkled about, I’ve only ran into two of these but luckily they can be worked around by just trying again, or taking another go later on. These issues can be solved with community feedback, beta testing can only help pick up so many things – the true test is always going live and enduring the public hordes.

“The hills are alive with the sound of music”, well okay perhaps not quite the hills but you can expect to hear many a travelling minstrel in this online Middle-Earth. Players can get a hold of flutes, lutes and other such things to strum out their medieval ‘rock anthems’ for all to hear. It’s a fantastic little community cherry for the cake, it reminds me of the pre-NGE days of Star Wars Galaxies where the cantinas were packed with players enjoying one another’s company socially – not just for questing. You can use this as a crafty ploy too in getting yourself attention if you need to band together a fellowship, remember its “LFF” (looking for fellowship) not “LFG” (looking for group). Okay, now I feel just a little nerd-esque.

Kiss my conjured embers masked badger scourge of Bree!
Now do the rocking butterfly technique, oh go on!

There’s plenty of room for Turbine to add new content and goodies for the LOTRO community, though they need to concentrate on more immediate matters of ironing out some rough edges, which are few and far between luckily. Armed with their deed system, player music for laughs and getting to know one another, and a solid environment to weave your Middle-Earth destinies – Lord of the Rings Online is a great game, I’ve had and intend to keep having fun every step of the way. It’s a game worthy of Mordor, so get a copy as soon as you can – here’s one not to miss for any Tolkien fan.

Top Game Moment:
The deed system is so simple yet so great; it’s a real surprise it hasn’t been included much before. Perhaps Turbine will set the trend …?

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By sergi1002 (I just got here) on Dec 14, 2010