I prefer journalizing, rather than reviewing, but so many have asked for my buy/no-buy call on Lord of the Rings Online (and LIVE date is next Tuesday, April 24th), I feel obligated to make a call.
The call: Buy.
Thanks! Have a good weekend!
If you’re the type who wants DETAILS, there’s more after the jump.
1. Artwork. Superb. Stunning. I am without speech, it’s that good.
2. Noob levels. Done well. Help is offered regularly (with tips and popups, which can be disabled later). Many features, keybinds from games past are the defaults here. That’s good because I’m getting old and set in my ways. It’s just this simple: if you can’t hook me in the noob levels, there’s no way I’m sticking around for the end game.
3. Deep and broad. An MMOG, any MMOG, with its premium box price and its premium subscription prices, needs to offer more activities than: you can kill stuff, and, umm, you can kill other players, and umm, you could check the auctions/trade channel. There’s many ways to screw around in this MMOG: Deeds, accomplishments, exploration (easy to outrun higher level mobs), titles, player-made music, engaging quest text, a solid start to the crafting system, MONSTER PLAY!!! There’s probably more, but that’s all I’ve tried so far.
4. We all know the story. This is a gimme, but CMON, who doesn’t love Lord of the Rings? If you say you hate it, you’re just being difficult.
5. Learned from other games. Some people (in /ooc) bitch about LOTRO stealing systems, ideas, etc. from other games … in particular World of Warcraft. Well, fucking duh. I would too. It’s called LEARNING. I hope they continue.
6. The Classes. Please God, let LOTRO continue their trek away from the Tank + Healer combat model that has plagued us for years and years. Several classes can heal (either self or party or both) to varying degrees in this game. Almost any group (excuse me, FELLOWSHIP) composition will work for the tougher quests to level 15. There’s still some reliance on the tank + healer “we win!” duo, but don’t believe everything you read in /ooc or /lfg.
I, personally, played champion, minstrel and captain to level 15; lore-master to level 10. LOVED Captain, btw. (For you WoW people, champion is rogue-y with big melee DPS, minstrel is the biggest healer/buffer, and captain is paladin-esque with better DPS.) Guildmates played, enjoyed, some LOVED, the other classes as well: guardian (tank), hunter (duh), lore-master (magic DPS), burglar (debuffer). To be fair, none of them loved burglar — was a little too group-reliant, I heard.
1. Combat. I liked queueing combat moves, spells, skills and responding to mob specials with different combat choices — some people don’t. I didn’t find the combat particularly innovative, but I did find that I could improve my play (i.e. kill time, defeated mob level) by fighting smarter.
So if we consider classic EverQuest the standard auto-attack, walk away model, and high-end PVP-type games as the ultimate in combat requiring your absolute attention, I’d rate LOTRO combat as similar to, sometimes exceeding, World of Warcraft PVE, in other words, mid-scale.
2. The Races. Who cares? I don’t. Any race, any class will do. Where do you want to start? That’s all you have to decide.
3. The Community. Umm, people haven’t changed in centuries — it’s the same community as in any other online game you’ve played.
1. Icons. WTF. Fix these. And I mean last week. After a few weeks with a game, I shouldn’t need to mouseover icons to figure out what an item is at its basic level (is it food? a craft material? looks like a blob of yellow to me), but I do.
2. Character models. Meh. They don’t have to be beautiful or cartoonishly exaggerated, but everyone is bland and homely. Some face animation wouldn’t hurt either.
3. Optimization. Busy cities can be jerky as stuff loads. (Yes, I have a computer well beyond specs for the game.) The syncing of character to the world can be iffy, also. Example: your character is running but his/her feet don’t quite match the moving ground properly. (I don’t know the technical whatsits for this.) During prime time, this is more noticeable, but not a terrible nuisance.
4. Item linking. We have to drag the icon and drop in chat to link an item with clickable stats. That’s bush league. Shift-click is the way to go.
5. Money is too tight. I know game economies have to be guarded closely lest inflation ruins everything, but in the noob levels, we want to try everything.
Here’s a good rule of thumb for you young developers out there: Noobs should have plenty of money to buy all their skills, try out the different crafting options, try out a few optional systems (surnames, kinships, musical instruments, whathaveyou), pay for repairs of their equipment AND make a few expensive noob mistakes.
LOTRO falls short of this — it is possible to drive your noob into bankruptcy and be forced to reroll. Of course, you’d never make that mistake again, but it is possible.
The bottom line is: this game costs $50, plus $10 a month (if you preorder), is it worth that? For me, the answer is: easily. My criterion is that I want to get a good six months to a year out of an online game before I ask for a divorce. So confident am I of the six month – one year from this game, I’m toying with the $199 lifetime subscription. I probably won’t, but I’m toying.
For you, the answer isn’t so easy.
If you’re still playing World of Warcraft and loving it, stick with WoW. Lord knows you can’t afford to spend any time elsewhere — there’s heroics to farm, attunements for you and your guild, trash to clear repeatedly — your plate is full. Same answer for you EQ2 lovers, Vanguard lovers, Eve Online lovers, et al.
If you’re looking to add to your online gaming options, this game is a fine choice. Beautiful, engaging, deep, different.
Between online games? Without a doubt, buy it.
New to online gaming? It’s f’ing Lord of the Rings! The game remains true to the story, but there’s more to do.
Whether you buy or not, know that whenever I run across the absurd, the foolish, the arrogant or the stupid in Middle Earth, I will save a screenshot for you.