It’s a long one guys!
Presentation: Having been a Lord of the Rings fan for a large portion of my life I take great pleasure in being able to review a MMORPG wielding such a title. Lord of the Rings Online developed by Turbine could not have been released at a better time. In the wake of past MMORPG successes that grew the genre and a fantastic movie trilogy, LOTRO’s potential fan base has the potential to be enormous. The world of Middle-Earth is a wonderful and magical place just begging to be explored by the artistic and creative minds of a gaming developer. With hundreds of monsters, points of interest, regions, races, unique entire languages, and so much more, how can anyone ever claim a lack of content? It’s a game designers dream. Now with all this potential for greatness comes so much room for error not only from a gameplay standpoint but from the lore. I hope from reading my review you will walk away with a strong impression of just how close Turbine has come to creating the next major MMORPG.
Click ‘more’ to read my full lengthy review!
The following categories will receive a numerical rating from 1(worst) to 10(best) and a brief summary of why I rated it how I did. These ratings and impressions will be from my perspective – that of a hardcore MMO gamer.
Races(10): In all honesty how can this category receive anything but a perfect score? Turbine held true to the Tolkien lore and gave us each race that could and should be playable. I was truly shocked to see that each race even had stat bonuses/impairments based on their lore and characteristics. For example: Man suffer a Will penalty but have the highest Fate of any race in Middle-Earth – So cool! I was also extremely excited to see that you could pick the origin of your race. Whether you hail from Gondor as a Man or the Blue Mountains of the Dwarves there’s one thing all races share – Polish!
Allow me to take this category further and explain the regions, feel, and characteristics of each race.
Man – Here is your fantasy staple Human. There’s not much Turbine could have done wrong with the race of Man. You have the option of choosing your origin (Gondor, Bree-Land, Dale, and Rohan.) along with the ability to be any class in the game. The starting area of Archet/Combe is by far one of the more polished starting areas in any game. Given more than enough quests to launch you into the full swing you will find that playing the race of Man easy for new gamers while still fulfilling the needs of a hardcore gamer. With the city of Bree so close to the starting locations is another major benefit for quest-line progression. You will find several lower level quest chains directing you to the next set of quests at NPC’s in Bree where once again more than enough quests fall into your lap.
Hobbit – I can’t help but smile when I see a little Hobbit scampering around Bree. Hobbits, as you know, are likely the start of all Halfling-like races in fantasy MMO’s. Living in the beautiful and very green land known as the Shire, Hobbits live a simple life. You really feel as though you should be taking things slower when you play a Hobbit and start questing. As you venture to places such as Tuckborough and Hobbiton and see little Hobbits sitting on benches, chasing kittens, losing their pigs, and smoking pipeweed… it’s almost as if all the problems in Middle-Earth cease to exist and you could forever lose yourself in the tranquility. But boy would you be wrong to think that Hobbits are incapable of adventure!
Elf – In my opinion Elves are the race with the biggest room for error. Standing tall and ever so slightly ‘better than anyone else’ the elves of Turbine’s Middle-Earth blend very well with the Tolkien Lore. You start immediately in the middle of an attack on your starting city. Trolls, Dwarves (nasty ones – Dourhands), and Goblins are attacking your front gates. With a very user friendly series of stop and goes you eventually find yourself in the middle of a land infested with elves and dwarves! I guess that would be my one gripe about races, not big enough to dock points on this category, but a gripe none-the-less. I felt that these two races were slightly too close together in the starting instance. However that small thing aside once you get out of the “newbie area” you are indeed further apart and given your own quest lines. The Elf lands are how you would expect them to be. Bright and abusing the bloom lighting!
Dwarf – Where did I put my beer?! A stocky but sturdy race known as the Dwarves hits the MMO genre with a little twist. There are no female dwarves! Ack! Well I guess it’s not that bad. We have the pretty Elf ladies to look at and guess what? It fits the lore! The dwarven women were indeed more rare than you would expect and thus left out of the game as a playable race/gender. Dwarves share the same early starting area fate as the elves being stuck to close together for comfort. Once again however they are spread out and receive their own quest line in a snowy and dreary mountain setting. As for main cities/regions the dwarves come out on top. With a beautiful and vast stoney Thorin’s Hall the dwarves are truly the kings of architecture.
Classes(9): I couldn’t give them a 10 on this category as much as I wanted to. It wasn’t that they chose the right or wrong classes and it wasn’t that they broke the lore in any way. I just really don’t like how some skills are completely useless for some classes and all classes overall have a lack of abilities. However with my gripe on skills comes a true appreciation for the class choices in LOTRO. They really did a fantastic job giving us class choices that fit the lore while still being fun to play. Each class is unique, truly, and feels completely different from any other class. As I did with races, let me break down each class and give a brief description of how they feel/play:
Guardian – It’s a very durable class so you will not have any trouble soloing most any even/yellow/orange con normal mobs. Elites will give you some trouble if you go beyond what your gear/level is capable of handling. The guardians DPS is the second lowest in the game, coming in just above the minstrel. This class makes most of its attacks through the use of a shield and although you can use a 2handed weapon it’s simply not worth it.
Champion – You will need to be much more selective in what you kill. You are not as durable as the guardian but you make up for what you lack in durability with the ability to kill much MUCH faster. Using two-handed or one-handed weapons really does not matter in the long run with a Champion. The champion class is one of the most unique in that you can choose which way you want to play each day you log in. You can do some mild off-tanking with a shield, aoe lower levels, single target burst dps, and so on. The ability to wear Plate makes this class a force to be reckoned with.
Hunter – Similar to the Champion you often need to pick and choose. However due to range and insane dps you will kill even quicker than a champion and have little trouble soloing. Some hunters choose to use bow skills even when the mob is in melee range. At the time I am writing this my high level hunter sources tell me it’s more efficient to almost never use melee weapons to melee – instead use them for stats. Really at all costs avoid any multiple mob fights. You aren’t Legolas.
Minstrel – It’s not a durable class and it has the lowest Dps in the game. However its strength lies in the ability to almost never die to an even/yellow/orange because you can heal yourself quite a bit while still having offensive abilities. Short duration buffs come with your song chains and will aid in your soloing ability. Finding a nice area to grind where your buffs will last you through one mob and onto the next will be the most efficient.
Captain – With the pet and plate armor and decent attacks you will have decent survivability with decent dps. It’s a very “middle road” class and offers a good deal of utility/support for group scenarios. “Jack of all trades – King of none” comes to mind here.
Lore-Master – With a pet, decent but not great dps, and a few utilities, you will find this class to be a pick and chooser as well. I don’t suggest orange cons until the pets are fixed and stay the heck away from multiple mobs. The crowd control ability is not that great and you will quickly find yourself on the losing end of an uphill battle. I prefer to play Lore-Masters in groups.
Burglar – The burglar is an interesting little class. You have dual wielding ability and traits that go along with it to improve your offhand damage. You have stealth and abilities that gain strength through the use of stealth yet they still work even when unstealthed. Burglars can add “bleeds” to mobs, crowd control, stun, gain life through attacks, and pretty much kick butt. While not at the DPS of a Champion or a Hunter while soloing, the Burglars DPS will shine in a group when all attacks execute from behind. And one must not forget that Burglars are the only class that can begun “conjunctions” or “Fellowship Maneuvers” which allow your group to take extremely powerful actions, such as heals, buffs, Dot’s, DD’s.
Crafting(7): The crafting system, while not entirely bad, currently serves little purpose beyond a time sink to most players. The system is broken down into vocations. Each way you specialize will contain three sub crafting professions. The number one complaint that I have for the crafting system would be a complete lack of self sufficiency. Each vocation needs something from another vocation in order to create items of any use. This can, according to some, be a good thing but I see it as more of a road block. The gathering system is interesting and actually profitable if you work at it long enough. Resources are broken down into tiers and in order to be capable of harvesting higher tier resources you must raise your profession. I can see crafting be a very doable thing for the average player.
Equipment(8.5): Equipment in LOTRO is basically the same as every other game. Without crossing into the graphics portion I can basically say that gear looks good. It’s fairly common to have multiple pieces of loot drop in a day for even the casual player. Harder quests and dungeons will yield better loot – but that’s obvious. I enjoy the diversity of weaponry and how each weapon type has a bonus. Blunts stun, daggers add crit %, swords increase hit chance, spears bleed, etc.
Combat(8): Combat in LOTRO somehow became the topic of controversy lately. There are some players who feel that the combat is simply too slow to enjoy. Others find it just right. My opinion on combat is that when you first start the game the combat is scaled back to make a wolf in Archet seem like a good fight. Turbine wants you to feel immersed in every battle and not have the game give you that “I’m a god” complex that soon returns to slap you in the face when fights DO become difficult. Is it slow? No I think saying combat is slow is a bit much especially when at level 20 you will have traits that enable combat to go faster. Is it the best combat ever? – No it’s not. Is it perfect for the game it’s in? – yes.
To touch on a topic I spoke on earlier I feel that character skills are too few. A few extra skills per class could go a long way in LOTRO. This talk on skills however does take me into the next part of Combat that I would like to review for you. Fellowship maneuvers or “conjunctions” as some call them are abilities triggered by Burglars and sometimes rarely generated randomly in an encounter. These maneuvers are THE defining point of a good fellowship – especially when fighting extremely difficult named encounters. You will need not only a good burglar to take advantage of these skills but you will need great communication to pull off some of the possible combinations.
PVMP(8): Player versus Monster Player is by far one of the coolest additions to LOTRO. It’s a mix of Dark Age of Camelot’s “battleground” feel with a LOTRO twist. Monsters and “Free People” battle for control of locations in a giant region known as “Ettenmoors”. Turbine really did a fantastic job with the Monster aspect of PVMP. You’re given destiny points which you use to upgrade your monster, or Free People’s character (your normal character). These destiny points are something you should be familiar with as you progress beyond level 10 and obtain them each time you level. Performing quests as a monster in the Ettenmoors will yield destiny points. Buy new skills, stats, and goodies for your monster and battle it out in what looks to be a very big potential draw to many players in the end-game.
World/Questing/Exploration(9): Somewhat a large topic to cover I will try and make this brief. The world of Middle-Earth is full of magic and wonder. Turbine has made it their primary goal, in my opinion, to deliver this world to the players as polished as possible. In a past interview with a Turbine dev they made a statement to justify why Eriador is the only playable portion of ME at this time. The sum it up nicely: If you want the game to be as polished and immersive as it is now then you’ll need to be patient as the rest of the world is built. I for one find this a very easy thing to do given how much there already is to do. Exploration ties in with the World but I feel it justifies having a bit of recognition. Something that simply can’t be ignored is the beauty that Turbine has created for players to explore. When playing LOTRO it really feels as though I am walking in the world that I read about when I was little. That, in my opinion, is what it’s all about.
Questing in LOTRO is the bread and butter of the leveling system. You simply cannot progress any quicker than questing in areas that correspond with your level. Turbine has made the questing system extremely friendly to new and old players alike. Each quest hub will lead to the next and provide plenty of stories to justify the hand-holding. To fuel the fire of a hardcore gamer like myself Turbine has offered enough quests to keep me busy. There are simply too many quests in LOTRO for you to ever worry about running out. All of them are well written and all of them have a story to justify why they are sending you out to kill X amount of Y Mobs. Given the fact that you have come this far in my review there shouldn’t be any problem with your ability to handle the quests.
Interface(7): The interface is nothing fancy, nothing flashy, but nothing to lose sleep over either. It’s your basic MMO interface with the usual customization options. Something that sets LOTRO apart from other games is the built in VOIP options. Good communication really is the key to a successful fellowship, as I stated under combat. Without communication your simply can’t hope for a solid experience. Whether you use VOIP or the game’s chat system to communicate, LOTRO has given players all the tools necessary.
Graphics(9): The graphics in LOTRO are fantastic. The graphics are done in such a way that they rival some of the best MMO graphics to date yet do not make your pc cry out in pain. Moderate systems can run LOTRO and still feel like they can enjoy what the graphics have to offer. To repeat what I said earlier, the scenery in LOTRO has no competition – it’s in a league of its own at this point. Every region you enter you get this feeling that Turbine wants to pull you in and make you a part of the world. Without the risk of repeating myself I’ll close this section by saying I am eagerly waiting for what Turbine will give us in expansions to the game.
Sound(9): Not much to pick apart here. LOTRO’s music and gameplay sounds are excellent. If you have yet to sit and listen to the music of Tom Bombadils home then you’re missing out. The only thing I can suggest is that Turbine fixes the female shouting… quickly.
Summary/Lasting Appeal/Closing Impressions: Lord of the Rings Online is a solid and polished Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. Turbine has in my eyes redeemed themselves to the community by creating exactly what this genre badly needed. LOTRO has so much to offer the casual and hardcore gamers alike that I find it impossible to say which it caters to more. With all that the dev team has delivered to us so far I find it very easy to believe them when they say things such as housing are on the way. In addition to the smaller implementations promised to us Turbine has said that they are working hard to bring us beyond the borders of Eriador. If they succeed as they already have in delivering in their promises then LOTRO will have a solid lasting appeal to a very larger player base.
With an eye to the small details, spectacular graphics and performance, solid character progression, and staying true to the lore even when faced with controversy, Turbine has nailed Middle-Earth dead on. There are few other games out there that offer players the opportunity to be part of the world and not just in it. I for one will enjoy every moment of my adventures in Professor Tolkien’s world. See you in Middle-Earth!
My Final review score for LOTRO: 8.45