While I’ve been nuttily busy, a friend passed me a 10-day trial code for LoTRO. I had mentioned previously that this is pretty much the only major MMORPG I hadn’t played, and so I felt I had to give it a try. Summary: It’s a decent game, but it tries too hard to please too many people, and thus ends up leaving some wanting.
I realize LoTRO has been out for a while, so I’m not breaking any new ground here, but for those who are sitting on the fence, unhappy at WoW’s direction, perhaps I can help you decide.
LoTRO’s graphics are back to normal, compared to WoW’s, which are, let’s face it, cartoony and often somewhat silly. Yes, I like them too. I’ve enjoyed the irreverent style they have with gear, and the pop culture references. LoTRO is about, well, LoTR. The swords look like swords, the staves look like a staff, and the armor looks like something someone might have actually worn on a day other than Halloween. I can see a Fan Fair for them looking like a RenFair gathering.
Performance-wise, on my year old, top-of-the-line at the time machine, it occasionally gets choppy. I hear, well read, lag complaints constantly. About once a day I’ve ended up having to run down a particular street twice, since it’s looped me back. That said, for the most part, this only happens in very busy areas, like around the map (for you WoW people, that’s their Hearthstone) save spots. All buildings are instanced, which struck me as odd, but I guess it’s a cheap way to improve performance. The 50 or so people in their AH will not lag out the people directly outside at a travel point, which is good.
Trade skills are different – kind of like a combination of what I remember DAoC’s to be (at release, I’ve not been back since then) and EQ1′s, and use a WoW menu style. Most of their UI is almost a direct copy of WoW’s UI in fact, so people coming from WoW will have no issue with it. Trade skills have levels, and thus far I’ve enjoyed them, but I’ve found them to be fairly expensive to level with very little profitability thus far. From what I’ve read, profitability has been coded out a few times already. The expectation is that the player economy will generate the cash. At lower levels, it doesn’t.
Where LoTRO falls down is its quest system. Again, it’s a direct copy of WoW’s quest methodology, with rings instead of exclamation points. There are a lot of gathering quests, so if you hated those in every other game, you’ll hate them here. There are, however, tons and tons of group quests. Far too many.
Let’s face it, WoW brought in players who never played MMORPG’s before, and a lot of them solo. I solo usually, because I tend to log in for an hour when I have time, and my mind’s picture of “a group” is still fixed in EQ1′s idea of get a bunch of people and go grind something for a few hours. What LoTRO has is tons of group quests, and not enough people to do them. People will join for a single quest and not want to help you with another. Not always, but it’s the norm. The looking for fellowship (group) channel is constant spam of someone looking for help on a quest. Non-stop. To me, that’s an indication of failure. If I cannot possibly progress without help, and there is no help available, then that’s a critical failure.
On the subject of critical failures, they had an almost “EQ1 Alchemy” moment over the past two weeks with their major storyline quests being broken by their patch. The quest end boss would continually repop and not die, thus not allowing progress. Allegedly a GM could push you forward, but this did not happen for me, despite waiting three hours for a GM. EQ1 level customer service too.
The quest system should not have so many group quests, plain and simple. Some, certainly, and the Epic ones, ones that are basically telling the tale of the books in your eyes, definitely. Every chain they have seems to end in a group quest, which is just silly. It seems like they were trying to cater to the casual and the group player at the same time, and failing. The casual player does not want to have to group for any progress.
Requiring grouping was EQ1′s albatross, and should be shed. Having a series that require a group is fine, and having some quests that require a group is a good idea. I’m not opposed to that. Ideally, some grouping happens before you set foot in an end-game instance. These days, it seems like most people are “casual”, in that they look to solo at least part of the time. A successful catering to this will allow your game to really take off. History has proven that.
On a very positive note, their classes are mostly fun. They do not fit the strict healer/tank/CC that longtime players are used to. Each class can do a primary role well, and often can function adequately as a backup other. The pet classes are handled differently than I’ve ever seen, which surprised me. The trait and deed system would take pages to explain, but it’s an extremely interesting way to handle class balance and creation. Kudos to them for trying some new stuff. You’ll still get min/maxers, but there’s plenty of room to try stuff, without losing class functionality. Think WoW’s talent trees taken to another level.
In closing, I played it for a few days and found it to be a nice game. There was a coupon on their website for an extra 30 days of free play that I added to my account, should I want to give it a bit more of a chance, which I likely will. Hopefully once the ol’ RL calms down I can get back to raiding with my WoW guild as well, but for those 3am one hour gaming fixes, I might wander around Middle Earth a bit.