LOTRO Review

Tempted in by Avocet, and as a long-time Tolkein Fanboy (let’s not talk about how many times I’ve read the Hobbit, LortR, and even the Silmarillion), I gave Lord of the Rings Online a try last night.
Overall review: Very very good. Visually appealing, very intuitive “explain it all” interface, very evocative of the setting. A little buggy during scene transitions. Not beta-level buggy, but a bit — I’m encouraged to upgrade my video card drivers.
More beneath the cut.

This thing requires a lot of space. A couple gigs for the downloaded install files, than a handful more for the install itself. The download takes most of a day, the install a couple hours. No hitches, otherwise.
Account Creation
Relatively painless, though annoyingly twitchy about requirements for both an account and forum login/ID/password, and that they not be the same.
Start up
Glitchy. In two starts, I got the audio voiceover (very professionally done) accompanied by a black screen. Alt-tab to another screen, then back, and I could see, but still…
Character creation
This was LOTS of fun. You get Male/Female option on Humans, Halflings, and Elves, as well as a non-gendered Dwarf option (if you nodded and smiled when you read that, understanding why that was, then understand that you’ll be doing a LOT of that during the game — many of the design choices were made to evoke the setting).
Once a race is picked, you select a sub-division of the race, and depending on THAT (are you a man of Gondor? Rohan? the Dale lands? Bree?) some of your choices for apperance (skin tones, hair color) are limited appropriately — there are no Blondes or Redheads in Gondor, people; live with it.
Which brings me to the character-builder — the thing where you pick hair styles and faces and stuff. It’s not quite as robust as CoH (nothing is or CAN be, simply because other games have to be able to put ‘found’ gear onto your character’s frame at any moment, while CoH puts all the clothes onto the character to start with), but it is MUCH MUCH more robust than WoW. I spent quite a lot of time just ‘playing’ with the character appearance editors, making of several different characters.
Character Class selection includes (and I might forget one, so sue me):
– Burglars (Foe debuffer)
– Guardians (Tanks & melee)
– Captains (Team buffs, ”pets”, and melee)
– Champion (Melee DAMAGE)
– Loremasters (Ranged… umm… spells? And natural-critter pets. I didn’t look too hard at them)
– Minstrels (Healer. Also lots of stuff with music buffs and debuffs and demoralizing shouts and such.)
– Hunter (Ranged DPS, meh-decent melee, Traps, Snares, and Tracking things — you apparently need a high level Hunter to get a group into places like Rivendell — just to FIND it.)
I think that’s it. Lots of fun choices. Has the same kind of low-magic, high-fantasy feel of the books and movies. Good good stuff.
I really want to know if there’s a way to Dual-class, later. I’d love to be a Hunter/Captain.
There is a craft system, but it’s much more of a “gestalt” thing…
“I am an Explorer, so I’m good at collecting Wood, Ore, and … making some light armors and clothing.”
“I am a woodcrafter, so I can collect wood, craft it into Weapons, and… ”
So there’s some overlap in each Gestalt, with each other — your Craft is really kind of a secondary class. Liked that a lot.
Running Missions
Good storylines. Great starting areas, and it introduces The Thing that LotRO Does That No One Else Does.
Any successful MMO needs to have this thing. CoH is known in the great MMO circle for Sidekick and Exemplar — no one else does that. WoW is known for… well, being WoW.
LotRO’s “killer ap” in my opinion are “MIssions that move you through time, as well as (or even instead of) space.”
What do I mean?
I’m going to use City of Heroes as an example here. Specifically Perez Park. We all know Perez Park.
We don’t? Okay, Perez Park is a Hazard Zone in the city — one of the places that regular citizens don’t get to go, and that Heroes need a certain minimum security level to enter.
Perez Park is (almost) unique among all the hazard zones in that it has never suffered a catastrophe. Every other zone is a Hazard Zone because something blew up, or some aliens took it over, or something.
Perez Park is a hazard zone because it’s basically been taken over by the criminal element(s) of the city. It’s crime rate is really high. That’s it. So there’s no shops. No functioning stores. No Hospital. No support network in place at all.
But because of the nature of the place, you could totally see a group of heroes FIXING it. All by themselves. No construction crews necessary.
So… let’s pretend CoH did what LotRO does.
You enter the City, a novice hero. Perez Park is as I have just described it.
Come Security Level 7, we get some missions that point us into the Park.
We get our butts handed to us, cuz that’s what always happens. Mumble Grumble.
Come around level 10 or so, the Park’s Security Chief calls us back for another talk.
“Listen,” he says, “There’s a lot to do in there, but I think we can take the Park back, and I think you’re the people to do it. Interested?”
And you start on a long chain of missions all related to cleaning up the Park. Beat up some Hellions. Kill Skuls. Drive back the CoT. Figure out where the Hydra Spawn are coming from in the Lake.
You get to the end of the arc, and the Chief calls you in and says “We’ve made great headway, but something we did with the lake to stop the Hydra Spawn has riled up their progenitor. All signs indicate that the Hydra is rising SOON. Do what you have to do… call your loved ones, then get in there and STOP THAT THING!”
So when you take that mission, he opens the city teleport grid and ports you into PEREZ PARK IN FLAMES.
This is the 2nd version of the Park. The trees in the park are burning as CoT duke it out with the Lost. Half the Hellions and Skulls are in a turf war, the other half are FLEEING LIKE LITTLE GIRLS, BECAUSE THE HYDRA IS RISING! Half the contacts you’ve been talking to during this Perez Park Arc are dead or missing. One of them is feeding you info during the whole mess.
You battle to the center of the Park, and there’s the Hydra. There are a few good cut scenes, a big battle, and it’s over.
One of the surviving Contacts says “Freedom Corp is on the way! You saved us! You saved the Park!”
Fade to white.
You “zone in” to The New Perez Park. This is the version of the Park you will see for the rest of your career. This version of the Park is a little war-torn, a little singed around the edges, but it’s SAFER.
The Skulls and Hellions are still around, but they don’t roam the streets in packs of 20 — they hide in back alleys.
The CoT and Lost stick to the darkest of pathways within the Park’s forests, and there are a lot fewer of them.
The lake is pretty much cleared of Hydra spawn.
There are stores. There’s a hospital. Maybe there’s even a TRAM stop.
And you did that. YOU changed the city, and made it better. You moved through TIME in the game, and changed the city.
LotRO does that. It does it really, really well.
The human story arcs starts riiiight around the time that Frodo is fleeing the Shire, and moves forward through a small war in the starting zone that DRASTICALLY changes the face of the place.
The DWARF story arc starts before the beginning of THE HOBBIT! You’re THERE when Thorin and the other 12 dwarves are leaving the Blue Mountains and heading off on their grand quest…
I would think the Elf arc starts even earlier.
And once you’re out of the starting area, all of the races are in the same place in time… and the world has changed, and you’ve moved in Time as well as Space.
That’s so, so cool. And Smart.
Anyway — it’s a good game. Lil’ buggy in the video, but a lot of fun to play, LOVELY to explore, and very evocative of a magical place I love quite a lot. 🙂

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