Saturday, August 6, 2011

For those of you who don't know, I'm an avid player of Lord of the Rings Online among other titles.  So I've finally decided to do a post about it and my opinions of it as a game.  Granted as a fan of the game those opinions are sure to be biased in some way but I'll try to be as fair as possible. 

LotRO has a lot going for it, excellent graphics, good game play, and with it's hybrid subscription system it gives you a real chance to experience the game before you decide if you want to subscribe or not.  This allows the casual gamer a chance to play here and there as they have time without investing the amount of cash that the hardcore player does.  On the same note the cash strapped hardcore gamer (a group who is increasing in these tough fiscal times) is quite capable of "earning" enough store credit through grinding game play to purchase and unlock almost all the features of the game without spending a dime, or supplement their habit through occasional purchases of store credits from time to time.  I really enjoy this system and find it give the maximum bang for the buck in comparison to other F2P games I've spent time with.  Where games like World of Warcraft are offering free to lvl 20, LotRO gives you free to the level cap, and just removes access to much of the non-storyline questing,  along with some other minor, yet often desirable or depending on point of view annoying to not have access to, features.  Level Caps, Main Story, and Non-Guild crafting are all available to the F2P player, and at the moment all other notable features except Monster Play and the use of Destiny points can be purchased from the game store. 

Some of the games better features include it's community which I've found to be more polite and mature than in almost any other game I've played.  One of the first things I noticed is that there is a severe lack of hostile behavior in the games chat channels, and secondly that sometimes you can't go 5 minutes without someone doing a regional shout out that they are starting some type of instance and are looking to form a group.   This latter behavior almost shocked me, as in most other games I've played, players generally had their own little circles they revolved in and played with.  While this is somewhat true of LotRO, the sheer amount of content available for players to work through often means that your friends may be engaged in a quest that requires a solo instance be complete leaving you either waiting, sometimes for an hour or more or looking for people outside your usual grouping to help fill the gap.

Character class design seems to be fairly well thought out, most classes are perfectly capable of running solo, though at some point it can be extremely difficult, during normal game play.  Raids always require a group, and some of the quest instances work much better with a group but they aren't always necessary, and some quest instances even require you to complete them solo.  On the whole the various classes complement each other well, some excel in one role or the other such as Guardian's having excellent healing ability while Minstrels excel at healing.  And others like the Rune-Keeper deals decent damage and has decent healing ability yet can only wear the light armor leaving him less protection.  No class is vastly superior to any other, when you list their overall pros and cons and that makes the game much more balanced regardless of if you are mainly a solo player or a group player.

Leveling is pretty steady, if you are a power gamer you can reach the current level cap in days if you go about it correctly, though for most people it's a matter of several weeks to months.  The amount of experience you gain towards your next level increases at a fair rate if you stick with on level quests.  For those that have ground their way near the top it's even easier starting at level 55 there are numerous repeatable quests through out the game world that yield generous amounts of XP to help you get to the the level cap at a fairly quick pace, allowing people who have already invested a large amount of time getting to level 55, to approach "end game" rather quickly.  I've found from personal experience going from level 50 to level 55 is more difficult than going from level 55 to level 65.

Crafting was well designed as well, when you pick up a crafting profession, you obtain 3 skills. You always wind up with 1 resource gathering and 1 finished item skill that align, and either 1 finished item or 1 resource gathering skill that your character cannot either use (resources) or provide materials for (finished goods).  This makes sure players who want to get the most out of their crafting almost always need another character that compliments or they have to engage in some form of trade with other players.  There are also the crafting guilds, for all the finished item crafting skills.  Joining these and advancing through the various ranks inside the crafting guilds opens access to special recipes, which you can use to make some rather extraordinary items for the level requirement they have.

Housing, yep LotRO haz it.  And it's not a bad system but for people used to housing in games like Ultima Online it will either be underwhelming or overwhelming.  Managing your house is simple, much simpler than in UO, yet at the same time it has attributes that UO simply doesn't.   You can customize your floor design, and color, walls design and color and even the ambient music inside your home.  All homes come with a small yard with several "hooks" for you to place items, which vary from statues to beer kegs.  Not all is going to seem grand and spectacular, storage in your home is limited, houses for individual players come in 2 sizes and 4 types.  Each race has a housing area with up to 250 neighborhoods inside that area.  Individuals can purchase either a standard or deluxe house in the racial homestead of their choice (elves can buy dwarven houses if they wish or hobbit or man) Standard houses allow you to purchase 1 storage container granting you 30 storage slots.  Deluxe houses can have 2 containers for a total of 60.  The third house type is the Kinship house, and is used as a base for Kinships (generally called Guilds or Clans in other games).  These can have 3 containers for 90 total storage, but only a Kinship leader of a Kin with sufficient rank (Rank is earned over time) can purchase a Kinship house in addition to his standard house for his Kinship to make use of.  All in all it's a good system, as the 4 homestead (housing) areas can each have up to 250 Neighborhoods.  This means on each server it is possible for there to be 4,000 Kinship houses, 10,000 Deluxe houses, and 16,000 Standard houses (4 kinship 10 deluxe and 16 standard per neighborhood with 1,000 possible neighborhoods (250x4) per server)  so I don't see housing space running out in the near future.   For some of us that are used to older games seeing our homes in a full 3d environment can be joyful enough, but seeing actual neighborhoods laid out and designed to complement the area is simply amazing.

LotRO does have it's less favorable points as well, some of the in game systems are complex such as managing Legendary Items, these weapons and class items gain experience as well and grow in power.  You are also capable of adding relics to your Legendary Items.  These generally act as passive buffs to your character as long as these weapons are equipped.  The system for obtaining better relics can be confusing and quite daunting for players when they first encounter then, and as you can't remove relics once slotted, only replace them, (without buying a special item from the game store) as players progress through various Legendary Items they often don't plan ahead for items they will be using for a long period, such as the level 60, and 65 Second and First Age Legendary Items.  It's frustrating having to build your relic pool for each weapon and without experience many players wind up doing just that:  Upgrading relics on weapons only to loose them when they upgrade to a better weapon later on instead of planning for their long term weapons they'll obtain at higher levels.  Also newer players often don't have the grasp of traits, and fail to realize their importance in building a character, there is very little in the way of tutorials concerning either of these.  F2P restrictions as I mentioned earlier can be quite annoying.  F2P only has 3 bags available by default for looting while subscribers get 5, though you can unlock more via the game store.  It's not uncommon for F2P people to have to stop working on a quest to visit a camp or town to sell off "junk" loot because they are incapable of looting more. 

On the whole LotRO is a good game, it's built on a solid mythos and the developers have gone to great lengths to try and keep everything as accurate as possible to that mythos.  You'll occasionally run across the major characters and interact with them for a short time.  Typically you'll be following in the wake of chaos that follows the ring on it's journey toward Mount Doom helping the free peoples of Middle-Earth deal with invasions of brigands and orcs with the occasional Nazgul for good measure.
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