Lord of the Rings Online: MMO Review

Lord of the Rings Online was released by Turbine in 2007. Since then it has had many content updates and two full add-on packs featuring, more classes, more lands to explore and more quests (A further add-on pack is in production). Around a month ago they released a free version of the game. The free trial gives you a large part of the game; fully allowing you to experience the Lord of the Rings content without having to subscribe.

Another one of the long stay MMO’s. Without the phenomenal numbers of players that other MMORPG’s have, Lord of the Rings: Online has remained a consistent favourite among Lord of the Rings fans and gamers alike.


Gameplay

LOTRO follows the basic construct of a lot of MMO’s. The player will interact with a large world via a personally created avatar. Through this avatar they are able to fight monsters, explore the world, and ultimately save the world from the big, bad and nasty. It’s a formula that works well with many MMO’s, this one included.

The quests are broken down into sections called books. Each of these books helps to advance your character down the main storyline. This storyline is set against the storyline of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The quests should be considered to be behind the scenes of the main story, while you won’t be travelling with the ring itself, your actions do have perceived consequences.

Alongside the main quests you have a variety of side quests to complete, as well as hobbies such as fishing. These hobbies and quests can be completed or totally ignored .

As with many other MMO’s there are other quests which have to be completed in groups or fellowships as they are called in LOTRO. A fellowship will normally require a variety of classes to be able to take on the larger opponents and dungeons successfully. Many of those dungeons can also be scaled up, so if there is one that you really enjoy you can match it’s difficulty to your current level and complete it over and over. Some of these group dungeons can take groups of up to 24 people to complete, although Turbine have announced that they are creating no more 24 man dungeons due to the complexity of players being able to gather the required people together.


Character Creation

Character creation is simple. Your first task is to decide which race you are going to be. There are Humans, Elves, Dwarves or Hobbit’s to choose from with each race having access to a variety of racial traits that separate them from the other races.

After choosing your race you then have to choose your Class. These classes follow the fairly stereotypical Fantasy role-playing classes, e.g. you have your well armoured tanking warrior (Guardian), your long-range archer (Hunter), your healer (Minstrel), and your wizard/mage (Lore master). Not every class is available for every race, Dwarves can’t be lore masters for example, Only humans can be Captains and Hobbits can’t be Champions etc.

By way of a small tangent, I feel I should say that Lore masters do not use magic. There are only a handful of wizards in Middle-earth, five I believe, with Gandalf being one of them, and sorry but you don’t get to become as powerful as Gandolf. Lore masters use their knowledge or lore of the world rather than raw magic, so their skills such as throwing burning embers and controlling animals are not magical.

Once you have those sorted, you’ll be given options to change the way your character looks. Honestly, it’s not the most diverse set of character creation options but it is by no means the worst either. You can change all the standard things, hair colour, eye colour, hair style etc, height. So if you’re looking for a dwarf with a bright pink Mohican, you’re out of luck. The reason the more outlandish options are missing is because Turbine have taken a lot of care to make sure that the look and feel of the Tolkien world is consistent with the original story.



Traits and Deeds

As you progress through the game you will be able to change your character by completing deeds or applying traits. Deeds are challenges or tasks that need you to kill a certain number of monsters, explore given areas or use a skill a certain amount of times. The completion of a deed will often give your character a new title or trait.

Every character has a certain number of trait slots. Within these slots you equip your traits, which will award a variety of effects including skill increases.

As deeds, which complement your way of playing, are completed first, you will find that you gain more skill in that play style. Of course, you are free to develop your character any way you want.



Professions

I’m a fan of crafting in a game. To me it provides a different side to the game, something away from combat. Though crafting is never forced upon you, there are always advantages top spending the time in levelling it, such as being able to create your own armour, food, potions, trinkets etc.

In Lord of the Rings’ case the various crafts and trade skills are grouped into sets of 3 vocations called professions. Your character can learn only one profession, which will normally give you two complimentary vocations and a further vocation designed to urge you to trade with other players.

So in the Woodsman profession you gain access to the Forester, Farmer and Woodworker vocations. The Forester vocation is used to collect wood, The Woodworker vocation is then used to turn that wood into bows, and staffs etc. The remaining vocation of Farmer is used to grow fruit and vegetables, though only someone with the Cook vocation can use those. The Tinker profession has the Prospector, Jeweller and Cook vocations, so the fruit and veg sold by the Woodsman is of importance to the Tinker, without any way of growing his own ingredients he is reliant on buying them from others.



Graphics

The graphics are very well presented and you have the option of really stressing your graphics card to get some nice water, shadow reflection effects. The double-edged weapon of this game graphics wise is that until you get to fight those giant creatures in the dungeons you only have the landscapes to graphically impress you. Without giant fire balls flying around or people turning into bats, or some of the other more fantastic abilities in other MMO’s it’s quite easy to lose sight of how understated the graphics are.

The game interface is nicely laid out, and being able to completely re-order and resize the various aspects of your interface is a cool idea.

Sound

The sound is another example of how Turbine have attempted to stick to the ethos of Tolkien’s world. The music is melodic and calming, in most cases. With the understated graphics you get understated sounds, this is not a game which is going to shatter your own teeth with mind-numbing powerful sounds.

One thing I would say is that if you do fall off a high ledge, the crack you hear signifying a twisted ankle or shattered shin, is almost stomach turning.



Free to Play Restrictions

From what I can see, the restrictions you incur when playing the free version are quite minor. You have access to create a character under any of the classes, released with the original game (Guardian, Captain, Champion, Hunter, Minstrel, Burglar and LoreMaster).

You won’t have access to then PvP Monster Play content, explained below.

shadows of angmar screenshot monsterThe remaining differences between the paid for and free version are things such as only being able create up to 2 characters rather than 5, or only being able to carry a certain amount of bags and gold.

Many of the things missing can be bought (for Turbine points, which are gained by completing certain deeds) from the LOTRO online store.

To me the areas not featured in the free version are not big things, and the free-to-play options give you the majority of the game to play with.



Player vs. Player

As described, one aspect of the game that is only available to subscribers is the Monster Play. Monster Play enables you to create a high level monster, which to a certain extent mirror the various class types of the heroes (Orc Reavers – Champions, Uruk Blackarrow – Hunter etc.) These characters start at level 65. Once your hero gets to level 40 they can join in the fight fighting for the Free People, simply take a horse ride to Ettenmoor and join the fight.

One thing to note is that you don’t instantly have access to a monstrous demi-god of evil; you’ll be playing one of the millions of grunt troops yet undistinguished from the rest of the dark hordes. So don’t expect to go to head-to-toe with heroes on a one-on-one basis from the get-go. You’ll need to use the advantage of numbers until you have sufficiently leveled up your character to be able to take on those odds.

The more you fight, the more rewards and skills that you can unlock to improve your character. Whether these are short-term buffs known as Perks, an increase in your Rank within the army, or generating Destiny points which you can spend to buy better equipment and skills for your Monster or Hero.

It’s definitely an original take on the PvP concept. Usually, in the case of games with two distinct sides, your side is predetermined when you generate your character, or for single-side games you are thrown in to arena type battles which don’t seem to have any real place in the game; often looking like they have just been crow-barred into the game.



Conclusion

It’s a good game and for what you actually get free, It should make anyone’s download list. Though, I usually prefer my games a little more explosive compared to the quite placid and calm game-play of Lord of the Rings: Online. This style was almost essential, in order for LOTRO to stay true to the ideals of the novels. They had to make sure that they didn’t get tempted to put in large flashy spells and abilities. What they may have sacrificed in graphical chicanery they have more than made up for by being able to flesh out the back-story of Lord of the Rings and allowing everyone to feel like they are part of the larger story.

Download the free version, there’s a link on this page, and see how you feel about it.

Jim Franklin

Jim Franklin is a freelance writer, living in Derby UK with his wife. When time allows he likes nothing more than losing himself in a multi-hour gaming session. He likes most games and will play anything but prefers MMO's, and sandbox RPG's.

So what do you think?

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