Written by  :  blefuscu (462)
Written on  :  Oct 02, 2007
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Satisfies any MMORPG gamer as well as Tolkien fans waiting for an online Middle Earth experience.

The Good

To start, let me preface by saying that even though I have been gaming for almost 2 decades now, in terms of the time I have to devote to gaming I am likely classified as a "casual" gamer, and thus this influences how I rate this game.

Additionally, references will be made to certain game elements that are well defined in the overview section for this game, so I will not elaborate on its function so much as how it affects the game.

That said, I will begin by stating that LOTRO is an excellent MMORPG for veteran gamers as well as those new to the genre. Besides the fact that the game is easy to learn and also quite engrossing, there are many elements of the design which lends itself to casual gamers as well as those who can invest many many hours of daily gametime.

An overview of the design elements which contribute to my opinion:

* Missions/leveling that allows casual players to solo as well as rewarding those who group together in parties.

* Story-based quests which truly engage the player into the Tolkien world and show that the developers spent time researching the details of Middle Earth. I definitely do not know most the details explained in Tolkien's appendices, but from what I do know the back story and themes feel right.

Additionally, each race begins the game in a unique way. For example, Hobbit characters start around the time Sam and Frodo leave the Shire, and you encounter characters and fictitious scenes which weave into that story. Elves, to demonstrate their immortality, begin play in the previous Age in their starter areas before passing time into the current Age.

* The Deed system definitely encourages and rewards exploration (in addition to combat), and of course the excellent graphics allow you to enjoy exploring on its own.

* MonsterPlay allows everyone to effectively try out another character type in addition to their main character(s). This saves casual gamers a lot of time as you gain Destiny when you play monsters that you can use to enhance your "good" character, so you don't feel you are losing time leveling your main character when choosing to play as a monster. Additionally, monsters are already maxed at level 50, it allows any gamer who hasn't reached that level yet to compete effectively in large player-vs-player (PVP) battles.

It should also be mentioned that MonsterPlay isn't only for mass PVP battles; they have their own story-based quests as well. Bonus: you can play as a warg, which is probably the first beast character for players in an MMORPG.

* The artistic design is very pleasing. This was touched upon earlier, but just to reiterate the environments are all unique and convey very well ruins, forests, cities, hamlets, monster dens, etc. Additionally, the character designs are well done, and seem to have a lot of influence from the films -- i.e. Rangers in long coats, the look of Orcs and Nazgul, etc. This is interesting because LOTRO only has the license for the books and not the Jackson movie franchise (it's the usual convoluted story behind this, but that's another discussion), yet there is definitely an influence that makes the game that much more appealing to fans who were introduced to Tolkien through the movies.

The Bad

Unfortunately, no game is perfect and there a number of shortcomings, but none are of major significance.

* Character visual uniqueness (or lack thereof) - even though players can equip themselves with all sorts of clothing/armor pieces, unfortunately they all end up looking the same. You'll probably run into difficulty recognizing your friends from the masses unless you are looking for their names.

* The crafting system is a bit limiting. You can choose a crafting "profession" which has three predefined areas of skills, where, as noted in the game overview, one of them requires you to interact with other players to use (i.e. in acquiring the correct resource types for a crafting skill).

It seems the only reason the developers implemented this is to promote interaction. Ultimately it feels too contrived. Players who want to maximize their effectiveness will already be working together and specializing in this fashion. This design just seems to penalize those whose play style is solo oriented or doesn't want to spend the time to bid in an auction house or search for hours for someone to trade with you.

* Many of the instance quests are extremely difficult even if you have a maximum size party you need some help from players who have advanced their character level to some range well beyond what the current Middle-Earth region you are in is designed for.

This is another paradoxical design. Why make these instances so difficult that you effectively cannot complete them unless you've moved on to another region of the world, when there's less incentive to return?

The Bottom Line

Even with it's faults, LOTRO is a fantastic online RPG. While it does not attempt any revolutionary gameplay ideas, it demonstrates that the designers have learned from other games as well as carefully studied gamer feedback to implement a solid game engine. What truly makes this a wonderful experience is very tight and well thought out integration of the Tolkien world.