LOTRO Beta: My Impressions

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Let it be known that this is merely my initial thoughts of the game. I will not go into detail on any subject and will not write my review until the game is in open beta.

First I’ll give you all a little perspective on my background with LOTRO. I’ve been in the Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar beta program for about two months now. Before my acceptance into Beta I was working diligently at the LOTRO Vault authoring the weekly forum digest. While writing the digests each week I am tasked with visiting the various message boards such as Turbines, Codemasters, TTH, and the vault’s board. So to keep it short let’s just say I have been “in the know” for about 5 months.

When you think Lord of the Rings what comes to mind? Epic story, basic fantasy staple, elves… ya you get the idea. Tolkiens novels were and are a main resource for almost every Fantasy MMO out there. So now that Turbine has been taxed with creating the very world that fathered the genre – can they do it without bastardizing it beyond recognition?

The Shire: These screenshots were taken on my pc at 1680×1050 resolution running LOTRO at the highest possible settings.

The first thing you see when you log into LOTRO is the beautiful world. Turbine really went to great lengths to bring players the full Middle-Earth experience. The best part? These graphics do not make your system whimper and beg for mercy like Vanguard’s engine/coding. You can see this world even with a mediocre card and still have it feel real.

Let’s talk classes and races. I’ve played every class and race to level 15 and taken my Man Champion into his late 20’s. I can say with certainty that I have a strong grasp of the different classes and how they operate late-game.

Due to the lore or intellectual property, whichever you prefer, Turbine has restricted the use of magic to NPC’s. This is a breath of fresh air for the genre. I’m tired of every game having Fireball Rank I – where’s the originality? Turbines response: Lore-Masters.

A keeper of ancient lore and otherwise lost knowledge, the Lore-master uses his knowledge of the lesser and greater powers of the world around him to stave off the advances of the shadow for a time, and to treat the wounds and suffering of his companions. In dire need he can use this knowledge to hurt his foes; but this task being extremely difficult, a wise Lore-master would rarely attempt it.

Close enough to a wizard but much, much more. Pets, heals, “damage abilities”, melee strikes, you name it they got it.

Let’s talk tanks. You have your basic run of the mill warrior, the Guardian. There’s not much new here except the majority of his attacks come from using shield bashes and abilities. More fun than you would think but it bored me quickly.

Then there’s your basic dps class: Champions. Dual wield, 2h, goes all out to deal damage but in the process suffers from weak defense. An extremely solid character if played correctly. This character has received a great deal of attention in the past few beta patches and even now feels incomplete.

An interesting addition to the genre is the Captain. A pet class that wears plate armor, carries a two-handed weapon, and adds much utility. A somewhat complex class that focuses on tiered abilities. HoT’s, shouts, and a pet. Good stuff!

What is a MMO without a Hunter? This class plays exactly how you would expect. You get range, you shoot your bow, you melee when close range. No pets, unlimited arrows, and a whole lotta damage. Turbines “nuker” class. Legolas would be proud.

Every game has that “primary healer” but not every game gives it to you in the form of a Bard-like character. Minstrels are the primary healers of LOTRO. The implimentation of the class is really well done. You get heals, ranged damage from instrumental musical attacks, and melee abilities.

Now to the oh so famous “Rogue” type class. Does it exist in LOTRO? Sure it does. Burglars are your stealthy backstabbing weakness exploiting beasts. Oddly enough they are currently the most underplayed class. Their damage is not consistant with other MMO’s – instead they are almost more of a utility class. By far Burglars are the most complex and intricate class. Big kudos on this one.
Races: Man, Dwarf, Elf, and Hobbit. A very small selection but due to IP/Lore constraints they really can’t do much more. It’s not as bad as you think and you’ll get over it quick. Man and Hobbit start together in Archet, then separating after the initial newbie “instance” experience. Dwarf and Elf races start together but also split up into separate parts of Ered Luin. My initial opinion? Man have the best area of the bunch.

The game controls are basic and standard to the genre and customizable. The interface is also standard and quite customizable. It’s been said that LOTRO will not support the use of any third party applications – so your UI mods are out of the question(thank you god! You don’t want to get me started on my hate for UI mods – thanks Blizzard.)

LOTRO’s leveling system is quite simple. Questing is the only viable way to level because honestly the grind on mobs is unbearable. But is this truly that bad in a game that is story driven? I like it – and so will anyone else who can read at an 8th grade level… crap there goes half of you! The quests are everywhere and if you play it halfway smart you will never run out.

Aside from a frequently changing economy(my Hobbit burglar could not afford any of his skills at level 10) the devs have the game fairly polished. I’ve participated in a half-dozen MMO beta’s over the years and not a single one had the polish and finished feel of LOTRO.

I’ll keep you updated as the game patches over the next few days. Closed beta ends March 25th and Open Beta begins on the 30th.