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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ring Ding

I recently received an email from Lord of the Rings Online:

"The Lord of the Rings Online™ is waiting for you! Celebrate our 1st Anniversary - play LOTRO for free through May 12, 2008!

Play your old characters, check out the LOTRO Anniversary celebration events, explore new areas, and tackle new quests. Just log into your LOTRO account any time through May 12, 2008 and we'll take care of the fun and adventure
. "

I logged in for a bit (to check out the new fishing hobby) so I thought this might be a good time to relate some LOTRO opinions. I never got out of the twenties level-wise so I'm not going to give a full review. I'm not done with this game either so I'll have some more notes as time progresses.

The main thing that surprised me is that this game is not awful, by any means. That may not sound like much but I had the following preconceived notions going in:

1. Everything Turbine makes is awful.

2. All licensed content MMO's are awful.

So when you combine the two, you expect double-awfulness. Maybe my expectations were very low but I had a fun time playing this game. It's definitely not innovative and I didn't think about it much when I wasn't playing. But when I was playing I always had a good time.

I'm a bit surprised that the buzz surrounding this game has been so limited. There just aren't many solid MMO's out there that are absolutely playable. But LOTRO is solid and playable.

I played as a Minstrel and I loved the class. I was able to heal in groups but I also had some serious DPS and I was absolutely able to solo with no problems. It is just a very enjoyable combination of buffs, heals and damage.

I do take issue with some of the buffs the Minstrel has. They just all seem very short and basically irrelevant - at least at the levels I was playing. And what made it worse was you had to level up your Ballad's each time. So, for example, I would have to play a Tier 1 Ballad (say Vigour) and a Tier 2 Ballad (say Swiftness) before I could even bust out with my Tier 3 Ballad of War. And then the buff lasts 15 seconds and has a mild boost to melee abilities. I don't know - this may have changed - but I never felt any of my buffs had an impact on combat in the same way my DPS or heals did. I don’t mind going through the Tier progression (I think that’s a cool idea) but I expect the payoff to be worthwhile.

Of course, the map system and UI are subpar, but that's true of every MMO out there. It's like every company assigns that task to some drunken hobo who wanders in off of the street, never mind that it's something your players stare at every second they are playing.

There are just a ton of quests, some of them pretty fun and most pretty well written. The normal fare was broken up with some wacky stuff like delivery missions and even transforming into a chicken (which was very well done). The main story-line quests involve the big name characters and are the most impressive.

The game can seem a bit grindy if you look at all the stuff you have to grind up. It's not just levels. You also need to grind for Deeds and Traits which help customize your character. But it really doesn't feel like a grind because you are getting rewards all of the time: levels, titles, traits. And killing one wolf might help you level, help you work towards a title you get when you kill a certain number of wolves, help you work towards a deed because you used Herald's Strike and so on.

A lot of the zones are quite beautiful and a ton of detail went into each area. I think the Shire is clearly the best starter zone, though starting as an Elf or Dwarf is very fun. Its seems to me humanity gets the short end of the stick with their starting zone.

As for crafting I think the goals for crafting in any game (ranked in order of preference are):

1. Make crafting fun

2. Don't make crafting fun but at least don't subject people to tedious exercises

3. Crafting isn't fun and you have to go through very tedious exercises

LOTRO doesn't reach level 1 but it is closer to 2 then 3. You can harvest when you're out adventuring (or just harvest) and then the actual crafting is not revolutionary but also not mind numbing torture.

Combat is the usual to be honest. Yes, there are "Fellowship Conjunctions" (similar to EQII's HO's) but they don't really add much to the norm.

The one thing that constantly stood out to me when playing this game is the amount of attention to detail and “extra” content the designers put into this game. You might call it fluff but this is the fluffiest game I've ever played.

I mean, I've stood around with a friend for half an hour in the Prancing Pony just trying out the different types of pipe weed there are. You see, different variations will change the effect created when your character blows out smoke. One might cause you to puff perfect rings, another might be a gigantic smoke blast and another might be a dragon. And you can farm/cross-breed seeds. All of this has no effect on gameplay but it's crazy fun and just one tiny example of how much fluff this game has. There's housing, holiday festivals and, now, the fishing hobby.

And it doesn't stop there: the music system is just crazy. I've heard groups of people hanging out and making some actual music. It's fun to pick up and there's a decent amount of complexity to it.

I mean in LOTRO you can even grind emotes to get crazier emotes. For instance, I believe if you get /laughed at a few hundred times you then can /juggle. And the scary thing is: I get so into the fluff in this game that I actually set this as a goal for myself (not there yet).

Maybe "fluff" is the wrong word. Maybe it's "atmosphere." Whatever it is, LOTRO is chock full of it.

The two things that stand out to me from my time in LOTRO are:

1. I always had fun each night I played and was never frustrated with the game.

2. Whenever Bandit and I (playing hobbits) would run across some innocent solo player out in the wild we would seamlessly move into "Hobbit Entertainment Mode" without a word. This involved handstands and other crazy emotes, busting out the drums and other musical equipment for an impromptu concert, hopping around like idiots, breaking out fluff items like the prized pie or Hornblower's brew and blazing some pipe weed. No other game ever made me feel like I could create a crazy scene for another player like that.

Oh, I almost forgot: LOTRO offers in-game voice chat for free. And it works perfectly as far as I can tell. Not a big deal to me personally but I give them credit for pulling it off.