LOTRO: living the fanfic dream?

Lord of the Rings Online is a game that you either love or hate. This will largely revolve around how you feel about Tolkein’s world. If you love it, you’ll put up with the duller parts of the experience and revel in the fantastic parts. If not, you’ll spend a lot of time being bored and wondering what the fuss was about.

It’s an MMO that you have to treat as an experience as much as a game (ie. some of the gameplay leaves a lot to be desired, of which more later.)

Quick LOTRO update:

My runekeeper reached the dizzy heights of level 21.

On the bright side, she does seem to have come on in leaps and bounds as a soloer. still not great but I feel able to handle 2-3 mobs of my own level, and either win or survive long enough to get away. I still like the general class design but find some of the abilities a tad weak, I don’t really like the amount of time it takes to switch attunement from healing to damage. It’s really designed for use in groups, not soloing (a mob will probably be dead before you’re fully attuned for damage).

On the downside, she is now deeply ensconced into questing in the Lone Lands. It’s pretty dull, to say the least. This is your grandmother’s style of questing. “Kill 10 Lynxes.” “Now go back and kill 10 spiders.” “Now go back and kill another 10 lynxes.” “Now we’d like you to run from one end of the zone to the other and back again.”

People in general have been very friendly, polite, and literate. It’s a game that tends to attract an older, more cooperative crowd. I’ve been offered free crafted goods, help with quests, and company while I ran from one end of the zone to the other. Even the person who asked me for help in a low level quest in a distant zone was polite about it.

Enough Lone Lands, what about Moria?

my burglar

my burglar

So, bored of the Lone Lands quests, I was nudged by my guildies to log my old burglar in and check out some of the new content. She was last seen at level 50 stuck halfway through volume 1 book 8 (if you know what that means, you are probably groaning and remembering that quest).

Harbouring painful memories of the past, I decided to ditch the old content and head straight to Rivendell to pick up on the prelude to volume 2. Note: Volume 1 covers the storyline quests for the original game, Volume 2 is expansion content.

(If anyone is interested in comparing experiences, Zubon@Kill Ten Rats has been checking out Moria also, but unlike me he wasn’t lazy and finished off volume 1 first :) )

I spoke to Elrond who remembered me, touchingly,  and sent me off to help the fellowship prepare for their journey onwards. This led to a series of one man instanced quests in which I was able to go and talk to them, get chatted up by Boromir (any time Sean, your place or mine?), and was finally invited by Elrond to come and see them leave.

It’s well written and convincing and … yes, feels as though you’re there in the film with them. Gandalf even turns to your character as they leave and says that he wishes  you could come also, but they could only take 9. (Silly? Well, maybe a bit, but you’d have to have a heart of stone to be a Tolkein fan and not be even a little charmed at the conceit.)

There is no other game that offers this kind of experience. For all the great things that Wrath does right (and there are many), you feel like an adjunct to the NPCs. In LOTRO, even though you actually ARE an adjunct to the NPCs, you feel as though you personally are part of the story.

The experience is then somewhat dulled because you’re back to regular questing until you get to the next part of the storyline (ie. book 1). It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Remember those ‘Kill 10 lynxes’ quests I was talking about in the Lone Lands? They’re back with a vengeance. And I grant a special mention to the Pembar questline that sent me back to the same half orc settlement no fewer than 5 different times, from 2 different quest hubs. Often to kill the exact same mobs again and again. That is what regular questing is like in LOTRO, with some exploring for traits thrown in.

I am very very lucky to have a wonderful sister who plays a Captain which means I didn’t have to actually ride down from Rivendell to Eregion — Captains can summon you around the world.

At any rate, I got around to book 1 which again was a brilliant, immersive and well narrated experience. It involved some nicely put together instances, side quests, and again I was deeply involved in the story. The writing is simply superb. Also, when an NPC gets grabbed by a tentacle from a murky pool and tells you to run — RUN!

But the best part is that at the end, you are presented with a legendary weapon of your very own.

Say hello to my little friend

The legendary weapons that level with you are one of the big draws of this expansion. And they are utterly brilliant in concept.

Your weapon gains xp any time you kill something (I am told there are special weapon xp gaining instances at max level also). It also has traits, which are similar to glyphs in Warcraft. Each trait typically affects one of your abilities. So for example, my burglar’s dagger increases the range on one ability, increases the crit chance on another, and so on. The difference is, when your weapon goes up a level — which happens very very fast at low levels — it gets some weapon xp which you can spend to either increase the power of one of its traits or increase its base dps.

Every 10 levels, you can go and have your weapon reforged, which gives it an extra trait. You also can occasionally do quests which reward you with a scroll of naming that lets you add additional abilities to the weapon, such as extra damage to a certain type of creature or a change in the weapon’s damage type.

Suddenly, those grindy quests became a lot less dull for me. I was levelling my cool dagger! And I’m told that eventually you get to name it yourself also.

I find this legendary weapon mechanic far far more fun than it has a right to be in practice. And it is my top pick for ‘ideas that WoW will nick for its next expansion.’

So, in summary so far

I think that Lord of the Rings Online is a game of extremes. They do some things brilliantly, awesomely, incredibly well … and others are painfully lacklustre. So how you feel about the game will depend very much on:

1. Are you so entranced by the good parts that you can overlook the dull parts?

2. How much do you like Tolkein’s worldbuilding? Have you ever secretly wanted to adventure in Middle Earth and meet the NPCs from the books?

To an extent, 1 is true of most games. Just in LOTRO the great bits are so amazingly good, and the dull parts are … amazingly dull.

And now if you’ll excuse me, my dagger is just a few kills short of level 11…

Speak friend, and enter

My continuing adventures in Middle Earth started when Zavvi went bust. Drifting round the closing sale and assorted wreckage like a retail vulture riding the winds of recession tsunami (Ed: that’s enough florid metaphor for this week), I found the Moria Expansion and … the rest is a mystical blur but somehow it hopped into my hands, came home,  installed itself on my PC and the rest is history.

With stunning personal timing, all this happened about a fortnight before Codemasters are offering a free Welcome Back week to returners anyway (note: this is in Europe only, and it starts THIS MONDAY).

I’ve been enjoying it. LOTRO is a very pretty game and the early zones capture the pastoral feel of the Shire and Bree achingly well. The world may not live but it definitely breathes.

Things I have noticed since playing LOTRO again:

  1. I really really miss my red quest blobs on the maps from WAR
  2. LOTRO is truly the game of stupid hats. How had I forgotten that?
  3. The storyline quests are amazing, but apart from that there are a lot of ‘kill ten rats’ and ‘run from one end of the zone to the other and then back again’ quests. Compared to Wrath, it’s like going back 10 years in quest design.
  4. Players in LOTRO are generally really friendly. eg. I was smelting some ore in one of the crafting areas and two different people offered to make things for me if I had some materials.
  5. Elves in LOTRO are actually attractive. This puts them miles ahead of either WAR or WoW’s Night Elves.
  6. Hobbits really do fish from bridges in the Shire. I ran past several players doing this, and every time it made me smile.
  7. Every game needs cosmetic clothing and I need to get my new character to level 20!

More on the Runekeeper

I do have a high level burglar (well, high level pre-expansion) which is a fun melee utility class. LOTRO has several utility classes, their approach to hybrids has generally been to broaden them rather than to specialise them. So their hybrid issues are more to do with hybrids competing with each other than hybrids competing with pure classes.

elvish runekeeper with a stupid hat

A game of hats

Much as I like my burglar, what really lured me in to buying the expansion was the chance to try the new classes.

The runekeeper is a caster/ healer. Over the course of a fight, she builds up her attunement to either damage or healing by casting spells of the right type. And the higher her attunement the more powerful the spells.

So this isn’t really a burst damage or healing class, it takes time to build up some steam.

It’s also not a class that can switch suddenly between one role and another. There might be abilities later on that make it possible to do this in emergencies.

But basically if you have been nuking, the only heal available to you is a weak HoT. And if you have been healing, your only immediate nuke is a small insta.

It is also a single target type of class. There may be more AE damage or healing later on but I haven’t seen it yet.

There is some very limited crowd control available also. The runekeeper gets a snare which breaks on damage and a short stun which is on point blank range.

What this all means is that Turbine have managed to create the only nuker/healer class ever that is bad at soloing. I’m not entirely sure how it will work out in groups either, but I’ll be intrigued to find out.I really did struggle with my runekeeper early on, it was more frustrating than any other class I have recently played. This could be because other games keep you more overpowered at lower levels to draw players in.

In either case, it was frustrating. But I am glad I stuck with it. At level 15 all LOTRO characters have access to a class quest which takes place in a one-man instance. I have always loved this idea. The brilliant thing about class quests is that they can be designed to make full use of class abilities. And the runekeeper one is a doozy. It takes you to the top of Weathertop during a thunderstorm, and is an intensely atmospheric experience. I jumped every time the lightning struck. LOTRO does atmosphere better than any game I know.

And, in order to do the quest, you need to figure out the class and how to make its abilities fit together. In terms of learning to play a class, this was probably the best of the solo class quests that I have seen.

Fresh with my new runic knowledge and having a better idea of what sort of monsters I am ready to take on solo, I have reached the dizzy heights of level 17.

When to guild

I hadn’t rejoined my old kinship when I first logged back into the game because I wanted some time to wander around and decide if I might be staying for a few months or not. I figure that if it’s just a peaceful diversion, no sense in making any commitments or confusing people with new members who just drift off immediately.

But I am enjoying the different pace and I want to see how the runekeeper works out. Also, I liked the kinship so I’m happy to chat with them again. I rejoined yesterday.

It does feel strangely humbling, knowing that I have been in solid friendly guilds in several different games. And even when I take a few months (or years in some cases!) out, they are happy to have me back. There’s a lot to be said for leaving graciously, and also for guilds being open to old members rejoining. It’s nice to be back.