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Monday, September 20, 2010

MMO Review: Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO)

Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) has gone Free to Play in the same style as previous Turbine games such as Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO). The main difference here is that LOTRO is a superior game.

While it vied to capitalize on the recent successful movie franchise, LOTRO licensed the video game rights from the books and as such, uses none of the imagery from the movies. That said it does a wonderful job of evoking a cinematic experience with such innovations as clever little intro videos for each race and class and nice short segue videos for important transitions in the main story arc of your character.

The game obviously takes the written works of Tolkien very seriously and there is a great deal of care taken to imbue every character and location with every factoid you could mine from it.

More after...

The story takes place shortly after the three hobbits of the fellowship leave the shire and currently extends all the way through the Mines of Moria and into the Mirkwood. I've been playing a fat little Hobbit of the Harfoots and am delighting in the charming and yet exciting life of a Bounder within the Shire! From the veritable capital of Michel Delving to peaking into Bag End (saying hello to Lobelia Sackville-Baggins on the way in) in Hobbiton I've found everything in place. LOTRO provides a naming guide at character creation and it seems to really payoff - the vast majority of characters I've met are appropriately named for the world.

The gameplay dynamics are at the least MMO standard fair with a few twists and it really seems like a 2nd Gen AAA MMO. They appear to have tried very hard to make every class interesting to play, I noticed classes sech as Wardens have interesting combo mechanics. On top of that there are Fellowship Maneuvers that classes such as Burglars can initiate for large party buffs,, healing, damage, or creature debuffs. Crafting is straight forward but again with a twist. In example, once you complete Apprentice Tailoring you both unlock Journeyman Tailoring and also the ability to level up Apprentice a second time to Master it, at which point you can use rare items to massively buff your chance to Crit on recipes which produces the Rare version of the item you are trying to craft. Also innovative is the fact you choose a profession bundle or vocation and not individual professions.

While there are the standard drop, kill, and delivery quests I've yet to be stuck on one for any length of time, they all are easily achievable, alone or in a group with many of the drops and lootable objects being shared. If you've ever played WOW you know how terrible this can be if done wrong.

The game augments quests with Deeds, which are akin to acheivements, only these very often will result in a new title or a Virtue. Virtues are buffs that can be socketed onto your character through the legend-making skills of a town Bard. An example would be the wolf slaying Deed which initially yields a title of Fur-cutter when you kill something like 25 wolves, but if you go on to kill 50 more you will gain the ability to use a Virtue that provides buffs to your defences and the Vitality stat (I'm going from memory so this may be wrong).

The graphics in this game are really very nice and it is a pleasure to bound around the Shire for hours on end. That is, when I'm not rocking out some Johnny Cash on my lute. You see LOTRO has the interesting feature that anyone can equipment two out of 6 or so instruments and then press keys on the keyboard to play around 30 different notes. For the lazy, you can download ABC files to your LOTRO music folder that contain alphabet-coded sheet music in plaintext. Sites exist that have libraries of community made ABC files for all your favourites.... this includes synchonized 8-part renditions. Yes, you and 7 friends can all synchonize and play an 8-part version of Coldplay's Viva La Vida in the The Prancing Pony while onlookers enjoy the local brew.

To be fair, my experiences have stopped short of any real instances, or fellowships larger than 3 people, or anything beyond level 16, so there is much of this game I cannot comment on. But from what I've seen so far... I can't wait to meet Tom Bombadil!

Recommendation: If you love Lord of the Rings - play this game. If you want a solid MMO that isn't WoW - play this until The Old Republic.

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