One small step for MMOs…
The Lord of the Rings Online takes place during the timeline of the Fellowship’s quest into Mordor, with you always trailing slightly behind them.
Whilst not being the first MMOG with a decent, scripted story, it is certainly one of the best, with story scenes playing out as epic battles and instanced scenarios in familiar locations from the books and films.
Luckily, nobody has to suffer with film licensing, as this game uses the rights of the book to full effect in order to flesh out Middle Earth in the best way possible with plenty of races, tribes and wonderfully designed areas.
The game actually starts a lot earlier in the timeline though, which sets the scene for the main underlying story between the dwarves and elves.
This is the first part of The Lord of the Rings Online’s ‘WOW!’ factor as the earth-shaking scripted sequences make their appearance.
The only downfall comes later in the game, as it becomes harder to find groups to complete the books with, you may find you have to wait a long while between these scenes. That is, unless you have a half-decent Kinship with plenty of players at the same stage as you.
Guilds in The Lord of the Rings Online are known as ?Kinships?, whilst parties are known as ?Fellowships? (naturally).
Being in a good Kinship is highly advantageous, as it is with any MMOG, and being in a Fellowship gives a seriously epic feeling of teamwork (if there are many), or partnership (if there’s only two of you). This is all simply due to how the game presents battling and adventuring.
The landscapes are expansive and beautiful, and there’s nothing better than charging through them with a group of loyal players by your side, slaughtering orcs one by one.
Or maybe you’d prefer to party up and raid a spider’s nest, using your all powerful Fellowship manoeuvres to cause under-sized Ent’s to squish them.
Either way, battles in The Lord of the Rings Online are seriously battles. The clash of steel can ring in your ears for quite some time, and there is actual contact between combatants meaning that fights actually feel like fights, rather than the fly swatting contests presented by World of Warcraft.
Tolkien would have certainly been a proud man to see his Middle-Earth brought to life in such a way.
Combat in an MMO wouldn’t be combat without a skill bar, and The Lord of the Rings Online gives us skill bars a-plenty.
As with pretty much every other MMOG out there, characters learn skills every other level or so, with some special skills at other levels (like better armour at level 20 and so on) which can then be attached to the skill bar and used in combat.
Unlike World of Warcraft and some others though, every skill has a unique animation and a very satisfying (usually) outcome.
The Lord of the Rings Online chucks in two cards of its own though; traits and fellowship manoeuvres.
Traits are accessed via a Bard, and are earned by completing deeds ? semi-quests in an area, which normally involve exploration or a lot of kills ? and can then be equipped to a trait slot. Trait slots are locked until certain levels and come in four varieties; combat, class, race and legendary.
Some traits do things such as boost resistances and stats, whilst others can be used to gain new skills or bonuses to existing skills.
Fellowship manoeuvres appear seemingly at random, and involve clicking one of four coloured icons in order to co-ordinate an attack. If everybody clicks on a different icon, then each effect occurs separately, but devastating attacks can be unleashed if the Fellowship uses the correct combination of moves.
The enemies themselves fall into what is quite possibly the worst genre trap imaginable now in an MMOG; same enemies but just in different areas with different names. You’ll go from Gore-Crows to Cruel-Eyes, but essentially they’re all the same weak swarm class birds.
Now, the best part of any MMOG is always class-based gameplay, and The Lord of the Rings Online’s classes make a nice change by breaking most of the archetypes of other MMOGs.
For example, it is easy to compare the Loremaster to a Mage at first glance, but actually they are the pet class for The Lord of the Rings Online. Magic isn’t exactly abundant in Middle-Earth, and hence it is only known by a select few (such as Saruman and Gandalf), so don’t expect to be throwing icicle shards in every which way. That doesn’t mean they aren’t fun however, it just happens that their magic is of a different breed than most of us are used to.
Another class which moves away from the conventions is the Minstrel, the Minstrel is your typical healer, as he uses music to restore ‘morale’ (the Lord of the Rings Online equivalent of health), which makes sense, and makes a change from ranting about health all the time.
One class does fall right into the stereotype pit though, and that class is the Guardian.
It does exactly what it says on the tin (or aluminium, or steel); the Guardian is the perfect tank. The other two melee classes are the Captain (most comparable to a Paladin, say) and the Champion, who is a little like the Guardian, but without the ‘Guard’ bit.
All of these carve out a nice quiet niche for The Lord of the Rings Online, which it is very happy to sit and be different in.
The Lord of the Rings Online has a crafting system similar in pretty much every way to World of Warcraft. You have a gathering skill and a crafting skill, but rather than being totally separate, the crafting skills come as packages.
Say, for example, you were to choose the prospector gathering skill, which allows you to mine ore, you could then choose the weapon-smith crafting skill. The weapon-smith skill would allow you to make flashy steel blades from the ore, but the woodworker skill would be useless unless you went out and spent money buying wood, as you couldn’t farm it yourself.
Alternatively, you could take the forester skill, rather than prospector, in order to use the woodworker skill, but then the weapon-smith skill would be equally as useless as the woodworker skill in the last example.
This might sound like a complete and utter cop-out, but it is a nice way to keep the economy going.
What is different about the crafting system though is the mastery level system.
Once you complete a level in the relevant skill and obtain the next rank in line, you can then aim to become a master of the previous step in the chain simply by continuing to make recipes in that tier.
This is a great idea to keep people crafting for just that bit longer, but also allows players to customize their weapons with trophies and added mastery bonuses.
One extra ‘be different’ point for The Lord of the Rings Online goes here.
Questing in The Lord of the Rings Online is as simple as it could be, if every other MMOG hadn’t done it first however.
You have the typical 5 quest tracker, a log, and most quests involve the collection of animal testicles.
However, many content updates have seen massive improvements to this system; you can see quest levels by default, you can see your stage in a quest chain and you can even share the first quest in an
arc with somebody who doesn’t yet have it, even if you are at a later stage.
As an MMORPG, The Lord of the Rings Online certainly improves on the existing formula established by games such as Everquest and, more recently, World of Warcraft.
The only thing it really does wrong is copy too much from the latter in terms of gameplay and without a lot of players at the time of writing to back it up, the choice that the majority of people have made remains certain.
The book licensing really shows Middle-Earth for what it truly should be, and Tolkien would have certainly been a proud man to see his Middle-Earth brought to life in such a way. A lot of the player attraction also comes from the novelty of the game being set in Middle-Earth, so if you want to get into MMOGs without taking a massive dive into Warcraftian lore, or join a clan of Conanites (later this year), this could well be the one you may with to try first.
The Bad: WoW-ish; not many players as of writing.