I didn’t really like LOTRO upon release. Things changed.
So, disclaimer: If you come here looking for a full review of LOTRO, you have come to the wrong place. Rather, this is a collection of short impressions I had of LOTRO in the early years, which I wrote down for my old gnome guild in World of Warcraft (WOW), hence the comparisons with that game.
I used to be pretty heavily into WOW, not least the roleplaying scene, but eventually I grew tired of it. Instead, LOTRO turned into my MMO weapon of choice. As you can see below, though, it nearly didn’t happen. I was pretty much thoroughly unimpressed by LOTRO upon release. “Wow, WOW light”. After a month of playing, I hit the Lonelands, which were so dang drab upon release, many players gave up, me among them. So I drifted back to WOW for a while.
A year later, though, I tried LOTRO again, and then slowly found myself hooked by it. In December 2008, I even rolled up a hobbit warden called Lina, and I’ve been here ever since.
So, below you will get my first impressions from the LOTRO EU beta in March/April 2007, my slightly happier times when I returned September 2008, and my rather more positive views in 2009-2010. What difference a few years make… you’ll certainly see the development from jaded WOW gnome to addicted LOTRO hobbit. Hope yer enjoy reading it!
Starting LOTRO: Beta impressions
March 31 2007
Played around with it for a couple of hours this morning. A quick summary would be WOW with stronger background lore and lower production values. It’s too early to tell if this is a game that will hook me – it’s ok, but so far it is a bit underwhelming.
Character creation is nice, since there are a quite a few visual options to alter your appearance. I have some problems with the movement in the game world, though – my character seems to “float” at times instead of walk/run (especially when walking sideways). WOW felt a bit more physical, possibly due to the exaggerated animations. And boy, does my hobbit ever look constipated when walking…
Whether or not it is more “real” than WOW remains to be seen. I have seen none of the pop-cultural references from WOW, nor the not-so-serious, light-hearted quest descriptions you are given in Azeroth. However, reality is also a question of the visual appearance of the game. The quirky over-the-top animations and graphical styles of WOW really worked well for my immersion into the game, and LOTRO seems rather stiff, lifeless and drab in comparison. It’s pretty colourless – brown, grey and blue in the lands around Bree I’ve been in so far. I hope there will be some variety, and more of the beauty and spectacular scenery I read about in Tolkien’s books as the game progresses.
Early parts of the game is Coldridge Valley over again – run around, kill wolves and boars and advance in skills. I hope there will be more to it. The postal quests someone mentioned seems interesting – I’ll probably head for the Shire sometime soon and have a look around.
I hope there will be language-specific servers. On my test server (Northwood) there are mostly Germans and French people running around, speaking their native language even in the English region channel.
It’s too early to give any sort of review yet, and I’ll play around with it a bit more. Its greatest benefit has to be the well-developed lore from the books, and I hope this is translated well into the game world.
April 3 2007
As for questing – once you reach the Shire, you’ll be subject to the mothers of all generic Fedex quest series. Run here with mail, fetch me some eggs from there, haul your lazy butt over to that place to get some pie crust. It’s not necessarily worse than WOW, but I have the feeling I’ve seen it all before (running with beer kegs outside Kharanos springs to mind).
Still, it’s hard to give a final verdict, because there’s one thing missing – players to interact with. The few I’ve seen so far are happily running around doing solo questing (which is what I have spent much time on too, since the few people who actually stop to chat all speak German). It will be interesting to follow the RP potential in this game, since the one thing it definitely got over WOW is the lore. Being based on THE fantasy book gotta count for something.
I see with great pleasure that Europe will get dedicated RP servers (as well as specific language servers, which will do wonders). So it will be interesting to see how these will develop. While the rich lore is a tempting draw, I wonder how it will all play out once people start interacting. Will we see regular battles between Tolkien purists and the general mass of players? (“No, there WERE no tomatoes in Middle Earth, so you’re playing this game the WRONG way”) Are there openings for a variety of RP characters, or will all hobbits by default have to be goody-two-shoed beer-drinking pipeweed-smoking gardeners to avoid facing the wrath of the community? How epic and interesting is it possible to make player-run storylines in this game, given that the major chain of events in the world you inhabit (the Fellowship’s travels towards Rivendell and Mordor) are beyond your participation?
I’ll try it out from the start (got a pre-order starter kit valid from April 14th), but my WOW account will still be running happily alongside this.
Returning to LOTRO
September 11 2008
So I decided to give LOTRO a go again. Not least since Turbine has pushed out regular free content updates (5 massive patches after launch), so there’s now a much bigger land area to explore. That was a big gripe for me to begin with – I felt the play world upon release was just too small. And with the upcoming “Mines of Moria” expansion, the world size will increase further. Great!
I have rolled a dwarf and played through the dwarven starting zone. It’s OK as start zones go, but it’s definitely not in the same league as The Shire, which is one of the most brilliant MMO play areas ever. They just got the hobbit lands perfectly. It is so good that my dwarf started doing low-level quests when he arrived there at level 15, just to recall some of the magic I felt when playing it the first time (but I’m giving the post deliveries a pass this time)
It seems the graphics are a bit better than I remember, too (there wasn’t a DX10 option upon release, right?) The landscapes look pretty sensational when view distances and all graphical options are maxed out. Character animations are still a bit hit and miss – everyone looks pretty constipated when they walk. Sound effects are a bit lame at times too. But generally, the music and landscape graphics make for a pretty stunning game.
So it’s all professional, all very WOW-like, lots of fun. Still, it is difficult to RP a character in this world – the lore-constraints are hard, to say the least, not giving you the flexible framework that WOW provides. So far this hasn’t been a big problem, because I haven’t seen any RP at all since I started playing again. In fact, many of the areas are pretty devoid of players, RP-ers or not. This is both positive and negative. A clear minus is that you lose out on the character interaction which MMOs thrive upon. The bonus is that you really are able to feel like an adventurer exploring dangerous lands on your own. Wandering around the wolf-infested woods south of Thorin’s gate, without the area crawling with lol-ing dwarfs running, jumping and playing their lutes, actually provided a pretty immersive experience. I’m sure that will change once I reach Bree and The Prancing Pony, though.
So: so far it’s a great single-player RPG, and I’ll surely continue playing for a while. I have more or less accepted that the whole game won’t be as brilliant as the Shire, so the letdown I felt last time will probably not manifest itself now. But who knows what will happen when it’s time for the dreaded Lonelands again.
December 2 2008
Still playing it on and off. Even got the new expansion too, so I have rolled a new hobbit warden character. It’s a fun class.
March 7 2009
There are many similarities between WOW and LOTRO – the biggest difference is that WOW is much more of an immediate attention grabber, while LOTRO is more of a slow burn. Many WOW-players trying LOTRO wonder what all the fuzz is about – they find a competently crafted game, similar in many ways to Blizzard’s, but not one that really grabs them along for the ride.
Personally, I like it, though. The world really looks beautiful, and it’s a game that is perfectly suited for solo- or small-group exploration and adventures. I also find that LOTRO emphasizes storytelling more than WOW. Quest stories can be really fun, not least the epic quest chains, and while there is a rather huge amount of “kill x numbers of y” quests, it doesn’t really matter when the world is such a nice place to be in.
Personally, I think the real success of LOTRO is that it has managed to establish a relatively friendly and mature community. Finding people jumping around shouting “LOL”? A rarity. Lore-breaking names? Occur from time to time, but they are usually changed fast. Stealing of gathering nodes? Not a big problem. Getting help to do quests? Usually no problem.
The big minus of LOTRO, at least for those of a hobbit persuasion, is that there is no zone competing with the beauty and entertainment that can be found in the Shire, the starting zone. As you travel along, you’ll find the world to be a more dreary, depressing, dangerous place. The Lonelands are especially drab-looking, but it feels better now than upon the original release. But then again, it ends up working well. After all, adventurers should be longing for home, should feel out of place the further they go from their homelands. If you accept that the game changes tone rather dramatically after the Shire, this opens up many nice RP opportunities.
I play a little hobbit warden at the moment called Lina, so feel free to look her up. She just hit her early thirties, so there’s plenty of content left to look at. She’s not guilded – she has taken the approach of travelling the world and exploring it, looking for chance encounters with other people she meets on her journeys. So far, it has worked like a charm.
November 15 2010
That’s my main game, and it has been for near two years now. If you see a lute-playing lass in Michel Delving called Lina, do stop and say hullo.
The hobbit community is going ever so strong, with a weekly inn night (Green Dragon Friday), concerts, parties, hobbity adventures and all sorts of fun. Last night we even had a play!
In my view, the world design is something that Turbine absolutely managed to nail, but obviously it depends on your preferences. WOW certainly has its share of wilder world design which won’t be anything near realistic, but which is fun to explore because its so totally over the top. Middle Earth, though, is supposedly the same world we live in right now, however in times way past, so it’s not that surprising that there’s a certain sense of deja vu creeping in.
There’s certainly enough fantasy staples here (not that surprising, given that Tolkien more or less invented the modern fantasy genre). As such, it is a bit unfortunate that most players will hit Breelands, Lonelands and North Downs after their starter areas. Breelands is an agricultural area surrounding a rather large town, and as such it’s just about as interesting as Elwynn Forest, Westfall and Redridge (although the lack of Murlocs is quite welcome). North Downs is a bit similar, although the fringe parts of this picks up considerably (Fornost and the passages to the massive lake Evendim), and Lonelands always were a bit bland (although it gets better on the eastern side of Weathertop). So you will find your fair share of farmlands, forested areas and grassy plains. Other areas are far more spectacular, though:
- The Old Forest – the twisting labyrinth of a forest which is where most players get the feel that not everything will be fun and games in Middle Earth. The nearby Barrow-downs aren’t a sunday picnic either.
- Forochel – the icy bay up north which gives you frozen wastes far more beautiful and aweinspiring than anything Northrend has to show
- Angmar – the old witch kingdom more or less oozes evil, with putrid lakes, broken deserted landscapes and looming evil towers. Combined with spectacular sound design, this is quite possibly the creepiest world area yet created in MMOs.
- Moria – the huge cavern system which will take you weeks and months to explore, filled with gaping chasms and marvellous architecture
- Rivendell – every LOTRO player still speaks fondly of their first visit – after traversing the Trollshaws, crossing the Ford of bruinen and climbing over the High moors, you are greeted with an awe-inspiring valley of beauty.
- Misty Mountains – also a kingdom of snow and ice, but filled with valleys and beautiful vistas.
- Lothlorien – the golden forest is as beautiful as they come.
And so on…
So there’s enough to look forward to if you like your Middle Earth, also outside the Shire
My original banner on the Laurelin Archives, back when the lute size didn’t scale for hobbits.