Lord of the Rings is a loved book and film trilogy, but is the online game any good?
Lord of the Rings Online (or LOTRO for short) is set within JRR Tolkien's mythical Middle earth really needs no introduction to the setting unless you have been hidden in a cave the last fifty years and missed the book, radio plays and recent films.
Codemasters released a early adopters pack in most gaming shops, being the astute purchaser I was able to purchase one, this cost £4 but allowed you access to the game a whole 10 days early and you can keep your pre-release character when the game went live. Codemasters also give you the option of cheaper monthly subscriptions on a 6 month plan or for £100 a lifetime subscription should you so choose.
Installation and patching, nothing really spectacular here, but a few nice little touches that I personally appreciated. The first being the game comes on DVD so no more multi disk installs which I personally despise (take note World of Warcraft !) The other is the speed on the built in patching system, I was getting speeds in excess of 400k/sec, this pretty much beats Wow's hit and miss torrent patching system and doesn't force me to go looking around the net to try and find the correct patch for my version or language.
Character Creation and Classes
Creating a character is pretty much the same format to most other MMO games, first of you pick your race in LOTRO you have the choice of human, dwarf, elf or hobbit. Each race has a nice little into movie attached to give you a brief bit of background about them, rather than a lot of boring text to wade through Next up is class choice.
LOTRO has taken a move away from the archetypal classes found in most MMO games of mage/warrior/priest. Instead you are given the following to choose from
- Guardian - a melee warrior who relies on defense and taunt abilities, a stereo typical tank
- Champion - melee class that deals large amount of damage and has various area attacks
- Captain - hybrid melee class that gets heralds, little guys who follow you about and give you buffs, really comes into his own within a fellowship (group)
- Minstrel - the healer, as LOTRO does not use health but Morale the minstrel plays rousing songs to raise players morale and to stop the dreaded retreats (read death)
- Lore master - a mixture of pets abilities (you get a crow and then a bear) crowd control and offensive spells plus some small healing abilities
- Hunter - ranged damage class takes the role of the nuker in groups And lastly we have Burglar - Sneaky melee fighters who use stealth and trickery to over come their foes
A different take on the usual MMO classes we see and more fitting to the mythos. After picking your class you then get to customize your character to a certain degree with hair/eye colour, hair style, skin colour, size and some facial skins with scars and wrinkles. A nice twist is that you choose your heritage and this dictates what skin, hair and eye colours are available to you plus it gives you your first title (more on this later).
On entering the game you are placed in a mini instance, this introduces you to the basics of the game like looting and combat, the main epic story line of the game also begins here, with each race getting to interact with major characters from the book like Gandalf, Elrond or black riders.
The combat system will be familiar to anyone who has previously played a MMO game, the pace is a little slower than you would normally find but feels right, character combat movement is well animated and there is not to much of the whiz bang fireworks type of moves that many other games employ, which I find to be a refreshing change to the usual glowing visuals and particle effects, it really adds a lot to the realistic feeling of the game.
The foes you fight fit in very well with the settings, from giant man eating spiders inhabiting underground caverns, wild bears in the mountain caves and bandits in the shire, most provide a decent challenge especially if you manage to pull multiple enemies at the same time.
One major difference between Lotro and other games is the elite mobs, usually in Wow you can take down most elite mobs (not bosses!) solo with not to much effort depending on class, in Lotro elite flagged mobs are much much harder to kill, I struggle even with a elite 5 levels below my current level, looks like groups are really needed to take these enemies down.
Some nifty little effects are introduced into combat, many from other games but with some nice graphical effects, when fighting a spider they have certain attacks that slow down your attack speed you actually get globules of sticky spider silk stuck to your arms, or when a creature hits you with a movement debuff your character limps along. Nice touches and adds a lot to the feel of combat in the game.
Crafting is very similar to other MMO games, collect up your ingredients and use the relevant crafting station. The real difference comes in the crafting vocations, you pick one which encompasses three distinct professions.
Lotro has a vast amount of craftable items compared to a lot of other online games, especially as each character usually has access to two crafting professions. Many of the items crafted require sub components to be produced first or purchased from other players if you cannot make the required items your self.
A lot of inter dependencies exist within the crafting schools so that it is difficult to progress on your own (with the exception of farming/cooking) this is in my opinion a good thing for the player economy as it forces you to trade with your fellows.
I took up the farming cook professions, anyone who knows me and my love of the chef in Star Wars Galaxies wouldn't be surprised. One benefit is that you can grow your own pipe weed differing varieties allow you to blow differing smoke rings on use, which adds a lot to the role play elements of the game.
This is where for me Lotro really starts to shine, the questing system is similar to other games and anyone who has played a Mmo will immediately get to grips with it, the usual mix of quests are available from killing x number of wolves, searching for long lost items, delivery quests , looting x number of items from fallen opponents or crafing specific items.
What makes the quests stand out for me is the stories that go into them and the long chains that they build up to.
My first character was a human who started out in the quant little village of Archett, after running round a completing a few errands for the locals you become aware of the intertwined story line about a group of bandits who are planning to attack the village, this eventually concludes with a miniature instance where you try to help to defend the town at night while said bandits go about looting, pillaging and trying to burn the place down.
This is impressive enough, but once you complete the instance you then move along into Archett the day after the attack, many of the building are burnt to the ground and a general sense of despair hangs in the air. Picking up more quests in the ruined village gets you helping out the survivors by doing such unsavoury tasks and helping bury the dead, giving a real sense of meaning to the story unraveling around you.
All the time a central "Epic book" quest is unraveling usually tied in some way to events from the trilogy of books, you will end up helping rangers drive away the black riders, or run messages for Strider out of the Prancing Pony, many of the Epic book quests are instances which also means you will be looking for some friendly players to join you in creating fellowships (groups).
I have found when playing I actually read all the quest text when compared to other games which was usually look at the reward and quickly scan the quest to see what I needed to accomplish, I think this is due to me being a fan of the books/films and I can relate to the characters mentioned more rather than some randomly generated name as seen in other games without such a popular or widely known back story or frame of reference.
Titles and Deeds
Grinding, always something that pops its ugly head up in Mmo games of any description, whether its from experience, rare loot, money or reputation its one thing I don't really enjoy having to kill hundreds or thousands of the same mobs ad infinity.
Lotro side steps this with a few old and new ideas, creatures net less experience than completing quests so grinding on mobs is not the quickest way to level up (in my opinion!), there are no real factions in the game that you can grind reputation for so that's out the window, loot is something you could ceaselessly kill mobs for if you are so inclined.
What Lotro does have is deeds, these little quests pop up from time to time when you trigger the event to activate them, one example is killing a wolf in the shire, this would bring up a mini grind quest that tracks wolves you kill from that point onwards, kill 30 wolves and you gain a title which can be activated and adds something onto the end of your name so for instance you can be known as Fred Slayer of Wolves.
Completing the first deed usually opens up another to kill more of the same creatures, this time the reward will be a **buff** that you can equip at by using one of the many bards scattered about middle earth, most of the buffs change your ability to regenerate health or power in some way, the buffs come under differing titles like Loyalty, Persistence, Courage and can be upgraded by completing differing deeds that all contribute towards that particular buffs level.
Deeds also come in other flavours such as exploration deeds (seek out certain places within the zone) quest deed (completing a certain number of quests in a zone) or racial deeds (dwarves killing a set number of goblinoids).
Not all deeds award titles or buffs some actually give new skills or emotes.
With my hobbit character I decided to complete every deed available to me within the shire, this was actually quite a undertaking and took me several days to finally complete them all, also I was determined to complete every quest available to me even if they rewarded very little xp due to me having a higher level than they were intended for. It was with great satisfaction to finally complete every single on before moving of from the area with a huge range of titles and a mass of deed related skills as a bonus.
Grapics and Sound
What would the game be without these two, and Lotro delivers these in spades. After some teething troubles with vista and high resolution textures Turbine managed to get the client completely stable for me to run the game at 1920x1200 with all the graphical option set to maximum apart from anti aliasing which I have set to x2. To say the game looks stunning would be a understatement, from the rippling reflection of my character stood by a river, the gentle waving grass in the Shire, the rising sun over Wethertop to the gloomy dark old forest the settings are really evocative and rendered at maximum settings are stunning to look at.
Performance wise I average about 40 frames per second, I'm running a core 2 duo with two 8800 in sli so it is a high end gaming rig, I have tried the game out on our laptop and running at medium settings at 1920x1200 I get similar performance so the overall game seems to be a decent performer.
Sound is very good within game from the clash of steel upon steel to the chilling howl of wargs it all adds to the overall gaming experience, the music is also complements the game very well, some of it sounding very similar to music from the recent films especially in the elven starter areas, one notable piece is when you cross the Brandywine bridge in the Shire a fabulous piece is played.
Community and Guilds
I choose to play Lotro on a role playing server to get away from the more l33t or Wow orientated players, a strict naming policy is in place and anything in the "say" channel should be in keeping with your character and no LFG or txt speak, this has added a lot to my in game experience, most notably when other player have tried to keep in character.
Having a chance meeting with some members of a established guild they invited me to sign up, I agreed and that has lead onto some very interesting roleplay encounters. Mainly taking place on Sundays in and around Bree one notable afternoon had the self appointed "Watch" guild of Bree accusing us of being in league with outlaws and this ended up with a few duels outside of town to clear our names.
Well LOTRO made me quit wow, and as some of you may know that is quite a feat, I signed up to a lifetime subscription and am really enjoying my game time in teh world of Middle Earth, added to the game recently have been two new areas, player housing and the announcement of the upcoming expansion The mines of Moria and to be honest I cant wait!
- Graphically and sonically stunning game
- Great quests and continuing story lines
- Large areas to explore
- Great community
- Crafting costs for farmers (now patched so not a issue anymore)
- Needs a decent pc to play on high settings