A Peek Into LOTRO
A few months back Jardal and I took advantage of a nice deal — we snagged Lord of the Rings Online, both expansions and 30 days of play for $10. It just sounded too good to pass up. I went into it having no intention of “switching” MMO’s — I was just curious.
I wrote up a bunch of comments about my experiences, but have procrastinated incredibly in sharing them. Today’s news that LOTRO is soon becoming Free-To-Play inspired me to finish what I started.
I only dipped my toes into the game, so obviously I’m an incredible noob — forgive me if I completely botch explaining anything.
Playable races in LOTRO are what you would expect — Human, Elven, Dwarven, and Hobbit
The basic “holy trinity” of tank, healer, dps is prevalent in the game, but they are packaged in rather unique ways. The classes are Burglar, Lore-master, Captain, Hunter, Guardian, Warden, Champion, Minstrel and Rune-Keeper. You can look at the chart here to see generally which role each class performs.
The Burglar was much like your standard rogue — melee, stealth, carries daggers/maces/swords. My limited understanding is that Burglars in LOTRO have a lot of utility, Crowd Control, and are valuable in groups due to their ability to initiate group-based attacks called Fellowship Maneuvers. My experience was entirely solo play, so I can’t really comment on that.
The Rune-Keeper was definitely my favorite. They are hybrid ranged damage dealer and healer, and have an interesting Attunement Meter mechanic. Basically the more heals you cast during a fight, the more “attuned” you are to healing and less to damage, and visa versa.
Next, I’m going to cover some random positives and negatives that struck me during my experiences. A lot of it will be in comparison to WOW, which is the yard stick that all other MMO’s seem to be measured against.
The Character Creator was IMHO quite superior to WOW’s. You can watch cinematics before you create your character, both for Race and for Class (and they are very well done).
Characters themselves are slightly more customizeable than in WOW – you can choose your hair, eyes, mouth, face, hair color, eye color, skin color, and body type.
The LOTRO starting areas are very nicely done. You feel like you are really part of a story from the very beginning. Even thought the actual quests themselves are similar to WOW’s (kill 10 wolves, pick 20 flowers) there is much more of a sense of forward movement. You also meet familiar figures from the lore right away, such as Elrond in the elven starting area.
The starting areas also contain instanced quests, which are available throughout the game. They are basically scripted events. I really liked this mechanic — it adds to the story-telling, and makes solo play more immersive.
Throughout my short experience I was very pleased with the story-telling in LOTRO. I felt like I understood more clearly the reasons I was completing quests.
The other huge win the game has going for it is the visual appearance. WOW has its gorgeous moments, but LOTRO is truly stunning.
From the elegant elven towers to the grassy fields of the Shire, everything looked incredible. It truly reveals just how old and pathetic the graphics engine is in WOW.
LOTRO also had some nice quality-of-life, and cosmetic features. One of these was the ‘Sell All’ capability. Built directly in to the game is the ability to sell everything in your bags via a single button. You can lock down certain items you don’t wish to sell.
Another feature that WOW players have been clamoring for is Armor Dyes — a vast shade of dyes available to change the color of your armor.
In addition to Armor Dyes, there are other ways to customize your appearance. You can choose which items are visible on your character (instead of just the cloak and helm option that WOW has). At level 20 you are also given the ability to display any armor that you own, regardless of what you’re actually wearing. You get two outfit set slots per character.
Names are also more customizable. You can give your character a last name, and even name Legendary Items.
Deeds are the “achievements” in LOTRO. By earning deeds you can acquire titles, or virtues (which modify your character stats). They are very nicely done and there is a lot of variation.
There are a few nit-picky things that bothered me about LOTRO.
First, the Map and Quest tracker are quite awful. You can’t really see any level of detail on the maps. The quest tracker only shows up to 5 quests at a time, and it has a bunch of weird symbols that are hard to understand.
Quest-givers in LOTRO have a yellow ring on top of their heads. For some reason I found this much harder to notice than the classic exclamation mark.
When you visit a class trainer in LOTRO, you have two tabs — one for active abilities, and one for passive. This seemed quite clunky, as of course I missed training the passive abilities for awhile.
Buffs and debuffs are quite hard to see in LOTRO. It also feels more difficult to know when you’re in combat – there isn’t handy scrolling combat text in your face.
Crafting for the most part was well-done, but I was rather irritated that you had to be at a work-bench to engage in it.
I found myself getting lost a lot, which is expected for a new world. In WOW, we have guards that we can speak to in Capital cities to point the way towards trainers, auction houses, etc. We can also track these things on our map. Unfortunately in LOTRO there is no such thing. I wasted a lot of time trying to find mailboxes or certain types of vendors.
Speaking of mail, it was an incredibly clunky interface. You can only send one item at a time.
My biggest problem though, is with the decision to not allow addons. Minor interface annoyances in WOW certainly exist, but they are fixable with addons. I found the Auction house in LOTRO practically unusable without an addon. I realize that some people dislike addons and can play WOW without them, but to me they add so much quality-of-life to the game. Without them, I feel like I have my hands tied behind my back.
Other Interesting Things of Note
Crafting is a bit different than you might be used to. Instead of choosing individual professions, you choose a Vocation, which is a group of somewhat related or harmonious professions, and given a fancy name. I chose the Explorer for my Rune-Keeper, which made me a Miner, Forester, and Tailor. I figured having two gathering professions would make the most money. You can however, only track one thing at a time, so having two switch back and forth between Track Wood and Track Mines was a bit irritating.
Character skill specialization is not based on a Talent Tree like in WOW. Instead, it uses traits, of which there are four types: Virtues, Race Traits, Class Traits, and Legendary Class traits. Virtues are earned via Deeds (achievements), and increase specific attributes or resistances. Race Traits are unique to each race. Class traits can be earned from quests or using specific skills. Legendary Class traits can’t be earned until you’re a higher level, and require completing a quest and gathering items.
When you die in LOTRO you can either receive a rez from another player, or return to a rallying point — which causes you to take damage on your equipment, and gives you a sort of rez sickness to morale (health). It’s not really dying so much as retreating.
Player housing is available. Houses are instanced, and you choose a Neighborhood within a Homestead (Elf, Men, Hobbit, or Dwarven). You can decorate your house, store things there, and even throw parties. For personal houses there are permissions you can set to allow in friends, your Kinship(guild), etc. You can even let friends have access to the storage chests in your house. There are also Kinship houses available. I never really cared about the concept of player housing before, but seeing LOTRO’s implementation makes me wish that Blizzard would consider it.
I know very very little about how dungeons work in LOTRO, having not tried any. I know that they recently introduced Skirmishes, which are randomized battles that can be completed solo or in a group. That sounds like a pretty neat feature, and likely helps keep the game from getting stale. I know there are also more typical dungeons and raids as well.
PVP is available via Monster Play. It’s basically a separate region in which you can play as a monster or for the Free People. I don’t really care much about PVP, but I like that the game designers don’t have to balance classes against each other, rather they balance monster types against classes.
There are few forms of travel in LOTRO that deserve to be mentioned. Obviously you start out walking. Most towns have a stable, from which you can rent a horse. Some trips will be normal travel which means you watch yourself riding the horse from place to place. Others will be Swift Travel, which means that the horse just warps you to the town rather than having to watch the whole thing. Eventually horses can be purchased. You also have a “Map Home” which is like a hearthstone. Hunters can also teleport.
The nice thing about the normal horse travel is that unlike WOW flights, you can dismount wherever you so desire. This means no more flying over the exact location you want to reach and then having to backtrack. Slow horse travel also gives you time to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
LOTRO’s strengths lie in its storytelling, visual appearance, and the ability to customize — from armor to traits, to housing, and more. It also has the advantage of taking place in a world that has very rich lore. There is a lot of sentimental value in finding yourself immersed in a fantasy world that you’ve seen in movies and read about for years.
I think LOTRO excels at appealing to RPer’s — from cosmetic items, to last names, it really gives more realism and depth to the characters you create. It also seems well-designed for solo play.
Overall it is a very polished game, and I wouldn’t consider it a failure by any means. Unfortunately the lack of addon capability annoys me intensely.
It is very intriguing that the game is becoming free-to-play. It sounds like there will be an unlimited content option, as well as microtransactions for quest packs, items, and account-related services (such as character slots, and customer service). See this chart for more details.
I’m not sure how I feel the Free-To-Play model. For some reason it just feels better to me to pay one subscription fee and not worry about it. I find it hard to justify paying for individual features. The all-inclusive aspect of subscriptions puts me at ease. Despite my misgivings, it’s obvious that paying for extra features is a trend that is continuing throughout the gaming industry. Even Blizzard has embraced it, with its account services, purchasable vanity pets/mounts, and premium auction house access.
Have you ever tried LOTRO? Will you try it now that it’s becoming Free-To-Play?