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…

7 thoughts on “LOTRO: living the fanfic dream?

  1. While I’ve heard it said many times that the WotLK questing content it pretty exceptional, and I look forward to seeing it, you have to admit that there is no shortage of dull grind between 1-60 in WoW, even after Blizzard speeded up the process.

    Of course, we are talking about 4-5 year old content in comparison to Moria’s 3-4 month old content, so yes, I agree that Turbine have plenty of room for improvement when it comes to mixing up the questing.

  2. I’m comparing one new expansion with another, really (although I did leave LOTRO originally because I was hacked off with Angmar and the other endgame zones, WoW never had quite that effect on me).

    Why I am so impressed by Wrath quests is another topic really, at the time you’re doing them you know it’s fun but you don’t necessarily stop to think that they’re anything out of the ordinary (mostly). But in retrospect they are brilliantly paced and laid out. Each zone guides you effortlessly through, with a nice variety of different types of quests/ activities and engaging storylines. All I can say is that coming to the LOTRO non-storyline quests was a culture shock to me.

  3. I have to admit that what I live for in LOTRO is running into the members of the Fellowship. To think that I’ll get to see them leave Rivendell… well, I just found a little more enthusiasm for making it to level 50 😉 (I am the WORST leveler EVER — I’m always taking off and doing something odd… I’ve been playing these games for 10 years and I’ve never had a character at the end level — I do have an EQII character at 62, but got to 50 long after 70 was the end level…).

    The best part of LOTRO is living in Middle Earth — I will forgive a lot for that experience. But I can be easily distracted by the next shiny… I’m an MMO tourist and not really ashamed of that fact. I do keep coming back to LOTRO and EQ2 though. I love them both.

  4. Heh, I’m now expecting wonderful things from the WotLK quests! And it’s nice to hear that Blizzard are actually reinvesting some of their zillions into some real innovation.

    Hopefully the commercial success of Moria will allow Turbine to keep pace with some of things Blizzard are doing. The phasing tech sounds like it would be perfect for LotRO, although I’m worried that it may be beyond their development resources to make those sort of changes.

  5. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the refreshing change of pace since I’ve started weaning myself off of a four year relationship with WoW. From what I’ve seen, WoW excels with raiding content but LOTRO seems to surpass WoW in every other category. The crafting is actually useful, the quests often feel epic, and the community is more mature. The instances I’ve seen are superior to the instances in WoW, and I hope to be able to compare raid content to WoW soon (I’m only 48). WoW just feels like a four year old game to me now. I’ve also made a Rune Keeper and though he is only level 5, I can certainly envision him fulfilling an important role in grouping later.

  6. Pingback: A holiday, a holiday, the first one of the year! Best of 2009. « Welcome to Spinksville!

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