Frodo, One Year Later

[Original review]

A year ago, I decided not to subscribe to The Lord of the Rings Online™: Shadows of Angmar™. The option for Founder’s pricing ($200/lifetime) made other payment plans look like bum deals, and I was not then convinced that the game was worth playing for enough months to justify it. If I had known then what the game would look like today, I would have recommended buying the lifetime account. Founder’s pricing is again available, and available anytime from an existing Founder’s account holder, so I now own a lifetime account to The Lord of the Rings Online™: Shadows of Angmar™.

The game vaults the “worth playing” bar, with prospects for better things to come. No, it is not revolutionary. It is EQ/WoW/DikuMUD with graphics: Yet Another Fantasy MMORPG. But it is a quality implementation of that model of play, with excellent graphics, support for several playstyles, better roleplay options than in most games, and plenty of little fun things. It has a PvP game that I, an EASK, enjoy and play regularly.

There is a great sense of a world, particularly coming from the heavily-instanced City of Heroes. The quests set the right tone as you move from the safe homelands through hard-pressed borderlands and into enemy-controlled territory. There is more content in each area than you need to outlevel it, so there is much to explore and content for replay.

As a CoX badge whore, I love my deed log. I could stand a bit more trophycase in its implementation, but I like getting credit for hunting, exploring, eating, fishing, or whatnot. At the moment, some of the deeds feel like huge, bothersome grinds, but nothing says I need to do all of them (as my completist soul recoils in horror). I already have more titles than I will ever use, especially since I usually run around with my early-game Hobbit mailman title.

I love my blue bar of rested xp. It increases my reward for playing, especially when I am grinding deeds, and it lets me know when I have been playing too much.

The gameplay is standard MMO. You have the holy trinity of tank-healer-DPS, with a large role for crowd control and debuffs. Pets are far less significant than I am used to. Rewards and many power increases are item-based, which I generally dislike, but I can deal. You can ignore that for most of the leveling game, when quest rewards will regularly improve your equipment without your worrying about it.

Gameplay includes solo and group content, and late-game content supports some small amount of raiding. Quests are designed for solo, small group, full group, and multi-group. Most of the content is solo content, and I do not do much of the solo content in groups. Some of the best rewards require grouping, but you could solo 1-50. Pick-up groups are mostly sufficient for anything, although the need for a Minstrel (healer) remains, and quests can range from trivial to nigh-impossible with the recommended solo/small/full group.

If you want something slower-paced, you can literally farm. It is the most accessible trade skill. Trade skills in general are of low value: they are cash and time sinks that do not add much to your viability. When you are leveling, you get equipment from quests, and the best end-game toys are either rare drops or difficult quests. There is a place for crafted equipment (and a huge place for crafted consumables), but that is mostly filling in gaps or providing something to tide you over until you get a decent quest reward. There are a few spots where the best items are (rare-drop, critical success) crafted items, but they are few, and each new update can replace one or more with quests and drops. When you have a lifetime account, you think about the long run, and who wants anything but the best in the long run? You only need to win that roll once to have the best item in the game.

I can’t tell you much about the RP community. It is constantly active, but I find the emote-based communication annoying. I don’t want to hang around the Prancing Pony, and I don’t want to talk about “what we should do” in a setting that we are powerless to affect in any way. On the other hand, light roleplay is super fun. The Shire is frequently in-character in /OOC. One night we had a bunch of people talking about those big people, whether it was safe to leave the farm, and how it was all just rumors and fear-mongering! I mean really, we may hear about goblins in the northeast, but there is no need to talk nonsense about war. There are crops to harvest and serious business, without crazy talk of adventures, aurochs, and wraiths that come in the night.

I have spoken frequently of PvMP. I enjoy it unless one side is completely stomping the other. It can be fun on the winning side of that until the losing team leaves, at which point you stand around or chase shadows. The best fights are large, mostly even battles that rage for a half-hour or more, with the tide sweeping back and forth. In its current implementation, PvMP does favor large raids; small groups can play, but they will get rolled by the raids. Outside keeps, small groups of stealthers can do interesting things, but that is mostly taking out an end-of-the-line target or two before fleeing.

The freeps win most of the battles: each freep is better than a creep. The creeps win most of the wars: they stay in the Moors longer, get back to the front faster, and have no cost (except running) for dying. So the freeps are all higher rank, and the creeps tend to own the keeps.

Session play in PvMP is potentially interesting, but so far not compelling to me. You play as a troll or ranger. Trolls have huge AE melee damage, and rangers have good single-target ranged damage. Rangers do not have enough damage to swing the fight, but they great survivability so they are hard to get rid of. Creeps mostly ignore them and take the occasional kill as a cost of doing business, or else you have a warg or two keep them occupied. Trolls have massive AE damage, until a Loremaster drains all their mana and leaves them with a slow auto-attack. Drain and debuff, then ignore, or apply the massive multi-Hunter DPS to send it back to a rez circle. Rangers stealth and blend in a crowd; trolls are huge targets. Trolls make better distractions, but rangers stick around forever.

I have mentioned that I do not like item-based play. I do like the expansion pack idea of items that level and grow. That is how we have implemented things in PnP games: items improve, rather than going through a steady stream of magic swords. Execution is key. As it is, I can deal with the equipment grinds, and I get some work on them just doing quests and exploring new things.

I would like more alts. City of Heroes was the land of alts. Here, why would I make another Hunter? I cannot even try all the classes without changing servers, because there are five slots and seven classes.

On the other hand, I kind of like having one identity. There are options within classes, and you can switch your specialty with a few different items and a few hundred silver worth of trait-respec. I am playing a Hunter, so there is not even much need for that; single-target DPS for life. You get more meaningful options with a Burglar, Captain, or Loremaster.

The regular content expansions are large, meaningful, and of high quality. It is what you expect from Turbine. I scorn many companies because I started with Asheron’s Call, where large monthly updates are the norm and expansion packs are very few. But getting all of Forochel as an update, as part of an update is huge.

I was worried that there would not be enough content. That might have been true at launch. It is not true now. There are at least two zones worth of quests available at any level. You must skip some great things to solo your way to 50, but you can do it. I do not know if there is enough to keep me interested in leveling multiple characters to the cap, especially when you are fighting the same wolves and brigands forty levels later, but there is a lot to do. There is a lot to do at level 50. And there will be more.

(If anyone from Turbine is reading, can a future update circle back around to the early game? We now have many options in the 40-50 range. Give us just a little more in the 10-20 range. I know, the expansion pack is coming, and you will need lots in the 50-60 range, then the 60+ range, but much of the 50+ content can suffice for the 50-55 leveling. Now that the late-game is overflowing, backfill.

(It will also help if there are sufficient pointers to take players there. Forochel is great, but there is little reason to start there, since you have been 50 for a while by the time Book 13 sends you there. Every other zone has quest nudges to send you there. The Lone Lands nudge to Evendim is too small, but the later nudges are very effective. Forochel has very little pre-50 nudging.)

I do worry that things will pale, but there is much to do until then. Things will look a bit different from another class. Still, $200 is a lot when most of us burn out in less than a year.

I do worry about the expansion pack. We knew it/they were coming with the lifetime pricing, because you need some way to keep money flowing. Will it render most of the current end-game irrelevant? There will still be groups for big quests in Carn Dum, but who wants to raid Helegrod for a roll on an item that is surpassed by a solo quest three levels later? Will it destroy PvMP balance? Will it draw too much developer attention away from the early game? Will they raise the cap again, getting another chance to disrupt the game or wreck PvMP balance again? I will accept some form of alternate advancement far more than I will accept a level cap that keeps changing.

On the whole, I have had an almost entirely positive experience with a much-improved game that was never bad to start with. You can understand my early hesitation given the results of Asheron’s Call 2 and Dungeons & Dragons Online. My remaining concerns are the extent to which this is an “experience it all in a few months” or “stay for the long-term” thing. If you like WoW but are bored and waiting for WAR, I unreservedly encourage you to buy it and play for a few months (all the capital cities are finished). If you are looking for a long-term home, this could be it, and the pricing structure supports you.

: Zubon

10 thoughts on “Frodo, One Year Later”

  1. I think the crafting, while probably far behind EQ and ATITD, is a lot better than most games I’ve tried, certainly better than WoW. It holds a more important place since you could make useful things and instead of making recipes “rare” they are “single use” which IMO is a lot better, since you could actually get the recipes :)

    In my kin (I haven’t logged in in awhile) we’d deck people out in new crafted crit armor every 10 levels or so. It was fun.

    It you’re not raiding then for some classes the crit single-use crafted armor is really the best, better than some of the set armors. My guardian tanked 3/4 of the Rift in mirrored armor, but my hunter did use more set pieces like the 3 piece set from Tagonnel.

    And while leveling also the crit armor is often better than what you could find. In my kin we’d fit everyone with a new suit of critted armor every 10 levels. Though I rarely used any single use recipes when levelling, often the critted regular armor was better.

  2. Great writeup Zubon. I basically agree with all of it. I think LoTRO is a bit underrated for all the quality it brings, yet at the same time it still has it’s flaws, as all games do.

    I’m also a bit worried about the expansion. I’ve yet to hit 50, and would love to see the current end-game, but I might not make it before the x-pac. Unless they upgrade those places to 60, I might never see some of them, which would be sad.

  3. @Syncaine you will still be able to see the 6 mans I’m sure but the raids… Well there’s gonna be new ones but the only way I see people running anything other than the rift much is if they raise the actual level of Helegrod and such. And if they raise it 10 more levels after no one will ever run the rift, even for fun, unless they upgrade the rift, which they easily could.. just change all the mob levels and the lewt you get from the trade ins.

    @Zubon excellent write up. Thank you.

  4. Over a year later, and I still do not see what people enjoy here.
    I guess I have been already ruined by what I experienced in the beginning.
    Bad UI, Ugly animations, still hitching on a system with 4 gigs and a ATI 4870 (yes, it is 64 bit) and X-Fi.
    I went back for the return, and still felt empty.
    About 2 months ago a friend asked me to come back and play, so i bought the 9.99 box and added the key to my old account.

    Still nothing. I played 10 out of 30 days.
    Lore is one thing, but a fun game needs to surround that lore, and I still could not find any here.
    But, I will agree that Turbine has followed the right path for the game (compared to Funcom, a proud member of the Titanic)
    Good patching schedules, content support.
    Maybe MoM will alleviate some of my concerns.

  5. My own experience with it was that it just wasn’t fun. Can’t think of a better way to put it, really.

    I must have played along with my wife for 3-4 months, and during the last month we had no desire whatsoever to log in most of the time. And we hadn’t even level capped any of our characters, so it wasn’t a matter of end game tedium.

    We both quit at some point right after Evendim and right before the chickens. Zubon’s review is good, and those points do exist – I’m not disputing that at all. It’s a good game that some people, myself and my wife included, found utterly flat and boring. Un-fun.

    To me, the good points are the sheer beauty of its environments, the sense of world is well made, it had an absolutely -terrific- launch (which is no small feat) and Turbine has been very good at updating it.

    All the other elements, unfortunately, in my estimation range from just acceptable to mediocre, bad or bland depending. The bad was heavier than the good, in my eyes. Other people’s mileage may vary, as it should be.

  6. I understand the points about not having fun. I might not either if I had not had a 4+ year break from YAFMMORPG. If you have been playing essentially the same game for a decade, a marginal improvement may not be your thing. And if you have not played it at all, it may really not.

  7. I would think the return of “Founder” lifetime pricing would be troubling. It doesn’t make a lot of business sense, the obvious buyers are people who have been paying the regular subscription fee and plan on continuing long term. As in, longer than the 12-16 months it would take to get the same money from them anyway. So, 16 months from now, those customers are a non-producing drag on the balance sheet, when there’s every reason to expect that they would otherwise have still been customers.

    Why would any operator do this? Doing it originally made at least some sense, it provided up-front cash to defray launch expenses and avoid the usual first-month cash crunch. But now?

  8. I opted for the Founder pricing since Open Beta. I’m still enjoying the game and don’t regret having gone with the Founder option. It’s nice to be able to start / stop playing from time to time and not feel like I’m not getting my money’s worth. @Dave – I’m not sure why they’d bring it back periodically. Perhaps they use it as a way to get larger cash influxes from time to time – maybe as an immediate way to defray some of their expansion costs before MoM releases?

    Crafting in LotRO is way better than WoW. I did like EQ2’s options more. EQ2’s simple mini-game approach was more interactive. Overall, LotRO crafting is alright. It’s probably more useful for soloing players that may not be into the Epic quests or players that like creating their own consumables.

    I’m loving the constant free expansions from Turbine: entire new zones, level help and not just for 50s, new game items and armor-sets – very well done on the whole. Their review of the different classes have helped a lot too. As I commented recently on my blog, they added a stance (Warspeech) to the Minstrel class which effectively makes them a nuker – nice to see a dps option available for the solo player of a healing class. Guardians (LotRO’s tanks) also have a dps stance available for soloing or in cases where you have a number of Guardians in a group.

    LotRO launched with a decent 1-15 game and a lot of promise. It’s nice to see Turbine fulfilling that promise as they go.

  9. Due to work constraints, I have basically no time to play anymore, but I did take a few trips around LoTRO, in addition to the one I wrote up. The game as it is, if it had launched this way, would have hit WoW like a ton of bricks. The game has matured well, and has solid support that I really did not expect from Turbine. My only major gripe left with the game is the extremely linear leveling path, but I was spoiled by EQ and WoW. In EQ1, with some effort, you could level up characters without repeating locations pretty easily. WoW makes this even easier, however mid 30’s you’re all but forced to go to STV, which I’ve always despised (the new, fast, pre-50 leveling allows you to skip most of the zone though).

    I leveled a minstrel up in a completely different area (Shire and Bree) than I did my Loremaster. Only at his currently level, 22 or something I forget, has he begun to repeat quests I’d previously done, forcing me to go into the Old Forest, which is a place I can’t stand. I know that going forward though, sadly, I will end up following the same leveling path, going next to Lone Lands, and then forward. Are there other options? That’s my worry for replay value.

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