While waiting for the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic I decided to give Lord of the Rings Online another try. Although I have played the game before, last time I did not give it a good enough chance and only spent a few hours playing it.
This time I am going to commit to stick with it to at least level 20 even if I do end up liking the game. I selected level 20 because there are several things that are unlocked by that level providing me with a fuller experience of the game.
By level 20 I am looking to unlock:
- Housing (Unlocked at level 15)
Character creation is actually where this game fell apart for me last time. There is just something wrong with the way elf and human characters look like. I think I boiled it down to the fact that their waist is too small in comparison to the chest (like Barbie dolls) and in the same time their feet are too large to be anatomically correct.
This time around I knew that this would bother me so I tried to compensate in the character creation screen to make the character a bit more anatomically correct. Still, the character creation is disappointing and is definitely not on par with the graphics that are found in the rest of the game. To be fair LOTRO’s character creation screen is much better than one found in World of Warcraft where human players always look like they have a brown nose. I also have to add that by the time your character get’s some better gear, they do somehow start looking more anatomically correct.
As expected when you first start your character, you will not have amazing polished armour. You will not even have Strider’s hooded cloak. The good news is that as you level and you acquire better gear, you will start looking a bit better.
The graphics in LOTRO are done in a cartoon-realism style and they are beautiful. The grass actually looks like grass; the trees cast shadows that appear on your character when you walk through them. None of it is picture realistic; however it is done well enough to lure you into enjoying the vast landscapes while traveling on your quests.
Many people will be attracted to this game because of the Tolkien’s books or even movies. I myself remember reading Lord of the Rings and imagining how cool it would be to have a Lord of the Rings game. The problem is that the game consists mostly of side stories related to the lore but not found in the original books. So for example Strider is in the game, but he is asking you to kill 10 rats or go see that person, rather than asking to help Frodo.
Since we can’t change the books to all of the sudden fit in my character I can understand the design decision here. I don’t really have a good solution. I just want to make the point that this is an MMO about the world of Lord of the Rings and not so much participating in the main story in the books. Never the less it is fun to see some of the LOR characters in the game as NPCs even if they are constantly asking you to go kill 10 rats. Also having Lore written by a great author is way better than some of the stuff other MMOs make up.
LOTROs quests are spread over a large landmass hence travel is a very important part of the game. To get around you have several options. Your character can have one quick travel option you can use once every hour. You can change your quick travel location by accessing Milestones located in all cities and throughout the land. You also have one quick travel option back to your house and one back to your kinship’s (guild) house.
If quick travel is no possible you have 3 other traveling options. You can run which is very slow, you can rent a horse that will take you to another stable you have visited in the past or you can buy the horse which requires the riding skill.
Fairly early in the game I received a 24 hours temporary horse. It was great as it allowed me to get to and from my quests much faster. I was some angry when I found out that the horse disappeared after 24 hours and there was no way to get it back without purchasing the Riding Skill from the LOTRO store. The bad news is it will take a few levels to earn the 95 Turbine Points to buy the skill for free. It will also take you a while to earn the 500 silver required to buy the horse. In retrospect, the one thing I would change about the first 20 levels I played would be to include the riding skill for free and make it available early to everyone.
Speaking of traveling, you will be doing quite a bit of that to get to and from your quest. Similarly to World of Warcraft you will start in a small village/city where you will be given tasks and quests. When you finish with the quests in that village you will move on to the next larger city and so on. Some of them will be instanced quests telling a deep story, while many will be your traditional go kill 10 rats. Most of the instance story like quests will be a part of the epic storyline and they will have names such as Volume I Book 1. While it would be nice if you could complete the game simply by doing the epic storyline, you will soon find out that the experience gained though that quest line is not enough to level you fast enough to be able to complete the next chapter. So in order to level up (at least to level 20) you will end up doing your traditional kill 10 rats, escort this NPC and go bring me something quests. As with any MMOs these quests are boring.
I love raiding. There is something exciting about being in a group of people working together to complete an objective. I personally don’t have time to sit in guild chat and try to organise a group together to ride for 30 minutes to get to the quest entrance and after 2 hours maybe complete the objective. I don’t have time for that. I personally want to be able to click be matched up in a random group and be teleported to a quest/raid that I can finish in about 20-30 minutes, teleport back sell stuff and log out. This is why I was especially looking forward to LOTRO’s Skirmishes.
Skirmishes are instant, start from anywhere fun and a great way to level without having to run boring generic quests. You can join a Skirmish from almost anywhere in the world and after you complete it, you just get teleported back to where you started. There are two main types of Skirmishes Offence and Defence which can be soloed as well as Classic Skirmishes which are more like quests/dungeons and require a fellowship (group).
Yes the content does get stale after repeating the same Skirmish several times but I think there is enough variety to keep you occupied for a while. At level 20 I unlocked 2 free Skirmishes and 3 instance quests. Doing these quests/skirmishes 2 times each took me from level 20 to level 24. On top of great experience, skirmishes drop Skirmish Marks as rewards that can be traded for great armour, weapons, cloaks and jewellery. Just by doing 2 Skirmishes my character went from rags to looking quite respectable.
With Update 5 released, Skirmishes are even more fun. Instead of looking for a party though the LFF chat, you can now get the game to match you with other players interested in doing the same quest/skirmish. This makes it really easy to log-in, match to a party, play a skirmish and log out, all taking about 30 minutes of your real life.
Skirmishes are unfortunately not all free. You get 2 that are free but after that its pay to play. However skirmishes scale in difficulty. This means that you can be running the same free Skirmishes at level 65 that you ran at level 20 for free and use them to gain experience and gear all the way to higher levels.
Another interesting aspect of Skirmishes are the Soldiers. These are alike NPC companions that will help you during your Skirmish adventures. You get various Soldier types with various soldier abilities. I personally choose the Herbalist which is a healer class. Originally I was not all that excited about Soldiers, however after a few Skirmishes I found that they are quite a bit of fun and not a huge management hassle (which I thought they would be).
Turbines (LOTRO’s Developer) Free-To-Play model is probably one of the best ones out there. I say that because if you really do not want to pay any money you can eventually unlock everything in the game for free. It will be very boring and it will take a very long time but it is possible.
This is how it works; for most of the things you do in the game you can unlock achievements which will give you a reward in the form of LOTROs virtual currency called Turbine Points. So you kill 30 spiders you get 5 Turbine Points, reach the next tier achievement (60 Spiders) get 10 Turbine points. Not every monster unlocks an achievement however enough that by the time I reached level 20, I had the 95 Turbine Points necessary to get the mount riding skill for free.
Turbine Points are account level so some people will actually farm Turbine Points by creating a character, killing monsters to earn the Turbine points, deleting the character and starting again with a new one. This is actually allowed and not considered an exploit of the game. (There is a similar system for Dungeons & Dragons Online also made by Turbine)
The game as a whole is quite generous, at level 20 I have not yet reached a quest which asked me to pay money. The only thing I really wanted to buy was the Riding skill so I can ride a horse, but even that was easily unlocked with the 95 free Turbine Points I received just for doing regular questing.
To be fair I know for a fact that at higher levels the game is less generous and you will run into questing content that will no longer be free. On the other hand the entire epic storyline is free and the level cap is the same for paying and non-paying players.
The only additional note I want to make about the LOTROs free-to-play model is that even if you are premium players (you spent some money at the store) you still have a 5 gold pieces limit on your character. I do not feel this is fair. Although it can be unlocked by an in-game purchase (395 turbine points) I feel that premium players that purchase in-game content and support the game differently (buying rather than renting) should not be penalized this way. On the other hand I can see that by level 30-40 I should be able to save up enough free turbine points to remove this limit anyways. In closing I want to say that I give the free-to-play model for LOTRO fairly high marks, yes there is the gold limit issue even for paying non VIP members, but considering that you get all the free content, it is way better than some of the other free-to-play games.
I will not spend allot of time explaining crafting because it is not particularly exciting. You collect some raw materials; you make stuff out of them. I will however say that it is an ok way to make in-game gold. Even if you are not planning to spend hours crafting high level items I think it is worth at least having crafting/collecting skills to make basic stuff to earn some easy silver. I know it helped me stop feeling cash poor all the time.
Being a long time Ultima Online player I was very interested in the housing in LOTRO. Having spent so long playing Dungeons & Dragons Online (which has no housing) I looked forward to finally owning a virtual house again.
There are 4 separate housing Neighbourhoods (1 for each race). Each one has 30 pre-build houses which you can purchase. The houses are various sized and priced. The smallest costs about 1 gold, and the largest Kinship (Guild) house costs 15 gold. Houses also have a maintenance cost which has to be paid so that you don’t lose your house. Unlike Ultima Online LOTRO will never run out houses because the Neighbourhoods are instanced. If one Neighbourhood gets full another one gets added in the exact same location. When you choose to enter a Neighbourhood it will ask you which one you actually want to enter.
As far as I can see there really is little real purpose to housing other than instant travel, extra storage and fun. You can decorate your house inside and outside and you can place a chest in your house that can store more items. You also get instant travel ability to your house, which allows you to return home easily. This can be an advantage and many people will move their house to a Neighbourhood closer to their questing location. You also get a small vendor discount in your Neighbourhood which helps offset the maintenance cost.
All in all I had fun purchasing my house and decorating it and even though the house has no real value and little purpose, I kind of like having a single place for my character to log out off at the end of the night.
I guess the best way I can rate this game is by asking myself; will I continue playing after I complete this review. My answer surprisingly is yes. I think it started to happen around level 15 where I thought maybe I can play this. At around level 20 I was hooked. Is LOTRO a perfect game, absolutely no, it has issues and parts that are boring and involve allot of grind. However there is far less necessary grind at higher levels and the game has enough fun to hook me into it.
I don’t think this will be my primary MMO but I will continue playing LOTRO. In fact I wish I was playing right now. My goal will be to take at least one character to max level and experience some of the higher level content. I will probably end up buying Turbine Points to purchase things like higher level Skirmishes and expansions and I will feel great to be able to support this great game.
My advice is to try this game to at least level 20. I don’t think you can give LOTRO a fair try, until you play Skirmishes and instance quests. I have a feeling many of you will enjoy the experience.