Friday, May 8, 2009

Final thoughts on Lord of the Rings Online

I have to admit that the free week in Lord of the Rings Online has kept me busier than I thought. It was after the time was up last weekend that I did the unthinkable, even in the face of all the scorn I had thrown at the game I resubscribed.

Once again, into Middle Earth. There is just something about this game that draws me back more than other fantasy MMO’s. I don’t know if it is the setting, the scenery or the lore, but it drags me back constantly whenever there is free time. More than EQ2 or WoW.

This time, I returned all guns blazing. Determined to get into the meat of the game, about 4 other TITANS superteam members from the CO beta launched forth on the Firefoot server and created a kinship that will last at least until July 14th. By populating it with alts and other people that wanted to play until Champions Online launched, we had the Kin up and running and knew that we just had to wait for the Kinship bonuses to kick in.

Since we do not actively recruit or pretend to be anything other than a place to eventually have a home to teleport to, we had to make sure we got the roster full with at least 6 people within the 24 hours it was formed or Turbine would pull a wipe on us. We ended up with 15 people, more than enough and with that we were off.

We started off at first with the 25% XP boost and we all made characters that worked well together. There were just three of us to start, and more would join later. With people playing Demigod, Left 4 Dead and City of Heroes, our little TITANS superteam site had in fact become a multi gaming community and I have met a lot of cool people.

So I made a warden, and instantly I loved the class for its ability to chuck spears, use combos which kept the combat interesting, and do a bit of off tanking. The taunts for a warden kind of stink, but I was useful in some instances to absorb damage and save the minstrel.

We all made a pact and opened a separate sub forum on the TITANS boards for the game. We would not level past level 20 until everyone caught up, new or old player alike. That meant that should the people that played more cap out, we had to either tradeskill or start an alt (if we grinded deeds we had to be careful not to ding 21).

So off we went. Finally I had a like minded, ANTI WoW crowd to game with and it was glorious. We quested, we grinded deeds, we played music, and I even bought a house for my warden and spent 2 hours just fussing around with decorating it.

LOTRO housing is a little on the weak side, not as fleshed out or complete as EverQuest 2. You can only place things on certain anchor points and not all objects fit in the small house. I found this to be pretty stupid since a quest reward is for a bear rug that can only be used on a large floor spot. Thanks for nothing. Still, I will not look a gift horse in the mouth and some housing and atmosphere is better than no housing like we get in World of Warcraft.

My Warden also had some other kick ass pleasant surprises in game. First off I caught a purple goldfish that could be stuffed and mounted on my wall via a taxidermist in Bree. I also looted a purple bear pelt that could be stuffed and place on my yard (or house, not sure which yet). I know that EQ2 thrives on housing drops and decorations and I always liked that. This was a pleasant surprise to see in LOTRO.

The XP curve was massively adjusted as well. My previous experience in the game had been to level 23 on a Captain that I have since deleted on the Meneldor server. Hardly enough to comment on the total game. My next main was a female captain to level 18. This time around I was determined to take my time and relax, and since I knew that no one would break past 20 I could calm down and not feel rushed to level. The warden did capable damage and soon Arelias was near completing all quests in Bree, Staddle, Combe, Old Forest, Buckland and Southern Bree Fields. Plenty of XP to take a character to 21 around there and still not see more than a sliver of the game’s content.

Not only was the XP curve fixed, I leveled faster than ever before and got tokens that were dropping on mobs as part of the second year celebration to turn in for gift boxes. This, coupled with doing more research about the game and making sure I quested out every area instead of skipping content, made my time with the warden enjoyable. So much so that before I knew it I was level 20 and one bub from dinging level 21. Knowing this, I actually had to log out at one point while hunting Wights in the Barrows or I would ding and break our team’s sacred covenant.

My ex wife used to play a minstrel and I had used her character before. Now in LOTRO you are able to spec in three different trees and actually be a battle bard, so naturally this was the next character I would level up. Along came Deebroo, my Hobbit. Deebroo started in the Shire, a place I used to loathe, but soon moved to the dwarven starter area to help a fellow kinsmate. I took the Hobbit from 7-12 there, and moved back to the Shire to tackle it head on. MY GOD. The amount of quests in the shire, from Michel Delving to Stock, was immense. Finally, I completed every single quest I could find, including the mail delivery and my Hobbit sat on the cusp of level 17. Ever being the completist I am, I knew my work was not done. I grinded out a few kill deeds, got those taken care of and then and only then did I set off for Bree. Once there I took all of Staddle by singing storm and soon hit level 18. Finishing that up I hit Bree and the Chapter 1 material and this , coupled with some wight grinding in the Barrows, dinged my Hobbit level 20 in about three days of playing. I also earned a trait to wear medium armor, a class trait I could equip if i wanted to DPS and take some hits and still live. Otherwise its light armor and healing away I go.
Hobbit at level 20Hobbit at level 20

I had this game down to a science. Since our pact was still in effect and some people were starting with new classes since they didn’t like their first choices, it was time for me to bust out my human Loremaster, who is now level 10.

In between this level spurts I have been tradeskilling, fixing up my house and researching which deeds to pursue. The game has kept me so busy at all times of the day that I actually do not realize what time it is outside Middle Earth, in that place they call the Real World.

Somewhere in here, I started to like the game. It offers so much more, like EQ2, than just leveling and pursuing loot in instanced 5 mans that I actually came to appreciate what the game stood for: CASUAL PLAY WITH REAL CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. Not only are the amount of traits you can obtain insane, but you can spec in three different play styles by swapping them out and it gives the game such life that you never get bored. There is a bit of a grind inherent in this, but by hanging out in Ventrilo and talking to my buddies I hardly notice it.

Many of you have had this happen but honestly, I blame World of Warcraft for sucking away the prime years of my MMO time. I also noticed another thing. People that come from WoW to play this game honestly don’t know what to do when it comes to not running a 5 man constantly or just raiding. Since there is so much character development you can do they tend to throw their hands up and just give up. That, coupled with the lack of mods that had previously auto healed or done other things for them, cause many WoW players to declare the game boring and give up. I used to be that way. Until I slowed down and realized there are OTHER things to do in an MMO other than run instant loot generating dungeons to get items. I had tried LOTRO back when there was no housing, no multiple specs, and no fleshed out barter or rep system. Now that I have returned I am kicking myself for not jumping on Moria sooner.

I know that there are still grinds in LOTRO, and there are still steep hills to climb. However it seems the game is more about the journey than anything else. With 3 man dungeons and soon new content that may let you hire henchmen, I think that LOTRO may be more fleshed out than many MMO’s on the market. They have room to improve as well, as the world of Tolkien is almost limitless. I suspect that with the release of the Hobbit movie interest in this game may skyrocket once more. I also like the fact that PVP is virtually left on its own and does not influence the PVE game. You don’t see the cry babies on the forums or the cries to nerf something because A class cannot beat B class in an arena. Instead what you get is a nice community willing to help and a ton of gold spamming. I’ll take it though. Even though LOTRO has more gold spammers than I have ever seen anything is better than more time in Azeroth at this point in my life.