Welcome to the fourth and last part of my short (yeh yeh) review of the Lord of the Rings Online (you can find parts one, two and three behind those links). As Grete said while she proof read the third part for me, it’s not really a review, more of an introduction to the game. Generally I agree, although I could argue it is a review, but not a critique. Either way, it was a little longer than I expected when I decided to answer Ottaro’s original question. Hope you found it useful.
4. Other Stuff
There’s the stuff that makes up a game (the content, the system, the graphics) but there’s also the non-stuff or maybe the quantum-stuff which is much harder to pin down which makes a game worthwhile and gives it longevity. I’ll talk about those things here, I’ll give you a list of all the stuff I remembered I hadn’t spoken about, and I’ll finally (thank the Greek gods finally) wrap up.
A game can’t be totally responsible for your eventual immersion. People with hectic lives will find themselves being dragged out of the game, or distracted and not able to ‘lose themselves’ as easily as people in quiet households. Some people find it easier to focus on a single thing and immerse themselves for many reasons than other people. But a game must certainly take some responsibility for enabling that immersion. If the game constantly drags you out of the action because of the control system, or if the information on screen is so anachronistic that it constantly reminds you you’re playing a game then it’s always going to be harder to feel fully involved. If the graphics on the other hand are impressive, representative and make you feel like the world could be real, then it’s going to be easier.
Add to this the other players and to a lesser extent the other non-player characters and how they behave. If the players around you are constantly discussing their mortgage or car purchase in an easy to read channel, or the NPC’s act dumb all the time, then suspension of disbelief becomes harder and harder.
How then does LoTRO rate? Well firstly you need to remember I’ve played exclusively on a roleplaying designated server, and that means people are pretty keen on keeping out-of-character chat to a complete minimum and limited to the /ooc channel only. In that respect, it’s very good, people try hard to talk in-character in fellowships or in /say and there’s very little non-IC chat to remind you about the bills you should be paying.
Alongside the well behaved players, we have NPC’s in LoTRO that sometimes call to friends for help, sometimes run away to shoot at you from range and sometimes call you names during the fight, it’s not going to win AI awards but it certainly helps.
Finally, the beautifully rendered world sucks you in, and before you know it you’re staring into fires in Goblin Town feeling the warmth and wondering if that smell is roast pork or maybe, just maybe, somewhere, a Hobbit is being turned into dinner.
I talk about the casual nature of LoTRO in a little bit, so I won’t dwell on that here. Suffice to say that grouping in LoTRO has the same issue it does in most modern games. If it’s possible to complete nearly all of the quests solo then why bother grouping? Well, while you can complete most of the quests alone, there are plenty that are beyond soloing at anything like the right level. There are quests which engage elite enemies for which you have to bring friends, and entire areas of the game dedicated to fighting hoards of elite enemies. But also, it’s just faster with more people even on regular quests. If you’re being careful when soloing, to kill one enemy at a time and then rest for a few moments between fights, the slightest problem, maybe a wandering bandit, can result in defeat. If there’s three or four of you, you can essentially chew through significant numbers of enemy creatures without pause, completing many quests in an area in a very short period of time.
So people do group in LoTRO, but they often do so for specific quests, or short periods of time. Every now and then you’ll fall into a group which ends up staying together in one form or another for an hour or so and completing a whole bunch of quests, but random pickup groups of that nature are the exception. More often you’ll find people wandering in an area you need to quest in, and group together so that you’re not competing for the same targets.
In those instances, almost without exception, the people in the game are great. They try to stay in-character as much as possible without being too stuck up about it, there’s general respect for other players, and there’s a sense of people being there to have fun.
If you want to form long term bonds you’ll need to find or start a Kinship and collect like minded people together, there certainly seem to be plenty to join, some dedicated to roleplaying others more social in nature. I find the social element better than WoW but still short of EverQuest.
Is it enjoyable? The crux of the issue. Yes, it is. It’s enjoyable to me because it’s generally easy to get into, but provides depth if you’re looking for it. You can find people in nearly all locations of the game, no matter what level those locations are, and that makes you feel part of something bigger and increases the enjoyment. The quests are fun and there’s a lot of humour in the game. The locations are engaging, the fights range in challenge from bring a big stick to bring a small army and the rewards are shiny and exciting.
A lot of my personal enjoyment comes from the lore, and if you’re not a big Lord of the Rings fan you may find the game more lacking than I do, but any issue I have with the game itself is smoothed over when I crest a hill and see a three hundred foot tall statue of a King of Men carved into a mountainside.
I have fun playing LoTRO, I rarely feel like anything is a chore (rarely, not never), and there’s always a reason to go and do something and get some value back from the exercise.
4.4 Casual or not Casual?
I couldn’t think of a better heading for this section, sorry. I have no idea if LoTRO suits ‘hard core’ players. There are certainly people playing it a lot, people taking part in the PvP side to earn destiny (see 4.5, what I didn’t include), and people going on raids. There are kinships advertising hundreds of members and lots of events. There seems to be a lot of depth in the content that I’ve not had the time to explore, suggesting there is another layer above what I’ve seen.
For me though, the casual nature of the game is one of its greatest strengths. Not casual in the sense that you can earn everything with little effort, but casual in the good sense. You can play a little, make some progress and then go and deal with life and what needs to be done. You can play, quit, come back and pick up where you left off. If you group with some folk you can achieve loads of stuff without worrying about the group makeup, two players of any class combination are more powerful than a single character, probably more than twice as powerful. If you start something with a group of people and someone has to leave, you can still probably finish. People can catch up and join you (there are lots of mechanisms in the game to aid getting to already formed fellowships) even if you’re in an instance from just about anywhere in a few moments, so your friend who gets in late from work can still play.
LoTRO can be picked up and put down as needed, you don’t have to put life on hold to achieve stuff, and you can get to the maximum level and complete many of the quests in small numbers or even alone, and in short bursts. Yeh, some quests do need a long time to complete, and there are some instances you can’t just stop and restart if you like but for the most part you can play for as little or as much as you like and still make significant progress each time you sit down.
4.5 What I didn’t include
Here’s stuff I didn’t include,
- Raids (or multi-fellowship quests): no experience.
- The serious complexity of the craft system: too much detail.
- Legendary items: covered in my Moria review.
- Trait sets: recently added, too much detail.
- How Virtues stack: too much detail.
- Housing system: forgot, too much detail.
- Hobbies: not much there right now (just fishing).
- Kinships: no space.
- The ‘Social’ window: never use it other than for Kinships.
- Banking and Inventory management: boring, no space.
- How LoTRO handles the space-time complexity of helping the Fellowship leave Rivendell and still being able to talk to them in Rivendell 10 minutes later: probably enough material for another complete post.
- PvP or Monster Play: enough material for a complete post and forgot, sorry.
- Potions and Food/Drink: forgot.
- Patching system: huge, no room.
- In-game support: not much experience.
- Maps: forgot.
- Outfits: no room.
- General information about Gear: no room.
- Titles: interesting but not much substance.
- Music: forgot (awesome by the way).
- Sound effects: forgot.
- Free content: alluded to in Moria reviews, but forgot to discuss.
- Fellowship maneuvers: forgot.
- Huge range of emotes: forgot.
- Destiny points: yeh, totally forgot, sorry.
- Player written music: oops, forgot.
- Playing musical instruments in-game: see one line up.
4.6 Summary and Wrap-up
Ottaro asked how I was enjoying Lord of the Rings Online, and like the fool of a Took I am, I didn’t just say ‘a lot’, I thought, ‘I know, I’ll write a short review’. Alas, as too many of you know, brevity is not the greatest of my skills and so here we are, about 8000 words later (more you’ll note, than my NaNoWriMo attempt), lost and wondering how we got to this point.
The hard-to-pinpoint elements of the game are just fine and dandy (that’s what part 4 was about), they support the content, technology and graphics. The people are pretty decent and I’m in a self-made Kinship with half a dozen friends with whom I group when we’re all available. The game is fun, there are very few time sinks you’re forced to take part in and the casual nature is supported by the in-game tools to ensure you can pretty much group with your friends no matter what they’re up to.
And so to wrap up finally. I wasn’t looking for something to replace EQ (not consciously), but I couldn’t turn down the chance to try a game based on Tolkien’s world and I’d been waiting for it to go live. Once I tried it I knew I loved it, but there was no room in my life for another on-line game while EverQuest was taking up all my free time. So it was only natural that once my involvement in EQ began to naturally wane, I’d spend more and more time in LoTRO. I don’t play anywhere near as much as I used to play EQ, but I achieve a lot more, in terms of fun and progression. Lord of the Rings Online is engaging, entertaining, easy to get into, challenging to master and visually impressive.
If you like the lore, the game can supply all you want, and if you just like fantasy roleplaying games give it a try, it’s quality.
I want to finish with a quote from one of the Moria Developer Diaries. This entry talks about the move away from a pure percentage based stat system and towards a hybrid system. They talk about the reason for the choices.
So why did we change it? It was frustrating for people to not be able to aspire to truly epic gear, since we had to account for flat percentages everywhere you went. We were literally giving out tiny bits of effectiveness for our characters, and generally, although some may disagree, tiny fractional percentages just aren’t fun.
That right there summarises why one element of EQ frustrated me so much. The developer goes on to say something that made me very, very happy (emphasis in the quote is mine).
Remember, the tricky part about percentages and a successful MMO? You can’t give out more than 100%!
When you budget out these values over 10+ years (remember, we’re not just talking about Moria here; but future expansions and beyond!), you either start giving out tiny fractions of a percentage that don’t feel very meaningful, or eventually players over a ten year play cycle will reach 100% of those values.
There’s easily enough content in Tolkien’s world to sustain this game for years to come and the developers are already tuning the systems involved to avoid the fate that EverQuest suffered half way through its life. I like that forward thinking and I hope as long as people play the game, Turbine will continue to add content and that as long as they add content, new people will continue to play the game.
Long life, Lord of the Rings Online. Long life.