Everyone knows you need at least three episodes to tell any kind of Lord of the Rings Story. Right Peter?
It’s been a while since our last update, and so much has happened. My brave hobbit left the Shire, and it’s not that I’ve suddenly taken to role-playing, but it’s almost hard not to with this game. My hobbit feels like more of a real character than my Guild Wars or World of Warcraft characters ever did, and that is a sign of how immersive this version of Middle Earth is. Read on for discussion of dungeons, levelling, alternate characters and the shop.
Since my last post I’ve travelled through thick forests, met Tom Bombadil, adventured through and around Bree, into the Great Barrow with a small party, across Weathertop with a ranger and deep into the Lonelands to meet Radagast the Brown. I’ve also come across Gandalf and Strider, Elrond, Boromir and Legolas. It’s already been quite the adventure and we’re not even into Moria yet (marking the beginning of almost necessary paid content).
On the topic of paid content, I can see how the free to play model can make Turbine money. It’s entirely possible to play through the entire game without spending a penny, and many players on the forums are proud of doing exactly that. It requires some grinding, and going out of your way to complete deeds that reward you with Turbine Points (the shop’s currency) but no-one could accuse Turbine of being money-grabbing when there is such a wealth of content to be experienced for free. If you do buy into the store however, it’s hard to stop. Aside from the big boosts such as double XP, tomes that give +10 to stats and a purchasable riding skills, there’s a number of products that simply improve your quality of life in-game immeasurably. It doesn’t even feel like the ‘free’ game has been made unnecessarily dull to force you to buy products, but for instance have you ever completed a quests, only to find you’ve got to walk quite a way out of your way to hand it in? Well why not buy a token that gets you there for free? They’re cheap and come in packs of 25; they allow you to be teleported immediately to turn in any quest. This can save you tons of time walking about, but if you don’t want to buy them you’ll still find plenty of things to do such as deeds along the way. There’s a fantastic universal toolkit as well, so rather than switching out your crafting tools to engage in a different tradeskill, you can just use one that marginally increases your chances of getting a critical result. I’ve found myself popping into the store whenever the game begins to drag, and there’s usually something for not many points that can perk me right up again by eliminating some minor niggle that most MMOs suffer from. I wouldn’t miss these items if they were taken away, but they’re hard to resist when they’re only a few clicks away.
The questing on the whole is standard MMO-fair. The story quests are consistently more interesting than the plethora of side-quests, and there’s an abundance of ‘kill 20 of these to progress’ type quests that have plagued MMOs since Everquest. That being said there’s nearly always far more quests than you need and not once have I had to resort to grinding in order to reach the next set of quests. If anything I’ve been struggling to keep my level down so that I don’t end up outlevelling an area before I’m bored of it. The areas around Bree have so much to do and so much rich lore but it seems that all too quickly you’re hurried off to the Barrows, and then to the Lonelands. I had started quests in those areas before I realised they were alternatives to Breeland, and so I had missed some of the wonderful human-based quests that deal with the more mundane (and occasionally supernatural) goings on of Bree.
The graphics are continuing to impress, and the world feels so alive thanks to the art style and the crazy things that people get up to. There’s much less of the rush to level cap that you see in many MMOs (WoW, SWTOR, GW2) and there’s more people just messing around wherever they happen to be levelling. In the above screenshot, all of those people were player characters. They’d just decided to dress up the same and play music together on a bridge in the middle of nowhere, it was ridiculous but amazing. I called other people over to come and have a look, it’s been a long while since I’ve done that in a game like this.
Once I got to level 20 (I’m now 27) I finally got access to the dungeon finder and the first set of dungeons. There’s a few story-based ones that take the guise of missions for Elrond (which I completely missed and am now too high of a level I think) and then a set in the Great Barrows. For those who only know Lord of the Rings through the films, in the first book Frodo and the other hobbits travel through some particularly horrible places that are haunted by barrow-wights, and are eventually saved by Tom Bombadil – the camp, ridiculous, joyful man/possible god. The Great Barrows is where these wights are based, consisting of a set of tombs of ancient warriors and kings.
The dungeon finder is easy to use, although the queues are ridiculously long, often taking up to 45 minutes even on a well populated server. I imagine it’s much less of a wait if you put down tank or healer, but since I wanted to go the no-stress route, I picked straight damage (eventually stepping up as healer a couple of times when things went badly) and let it do its thing.
The first three groups I was in were complete disasters. Generally it was the tank’s fault, as we had three seperate tanks who insisted on either going AFK randomly or charging in despite the healer being completely out of power. Once we wiped a few times they ragequit and because the queues took so long everyone else just left. Eventually I did get through the Barrows instances, but I have to say they are not where LOTRO is at its strongest. I can’t speak for the later instances yet, but the Barrows are unimaginative and consist of the most basic mechanics and fairly tough enemies to challenge groups. Even the environments seem sparse and dull in comparison to the rich overworld. Loot in them is extremely rare and there’s few bosses but loads trash, usually when you go through a run you simply get some gold and an item that you can sell for more gold. It’s much more lucrative jsut to spend your time questing, although you can get some decent XP, particularly coupled with the dungeon-specific quests that are automatically given to you when you enter.
There are some fun little bits of flair such as fellowship manouevers – started usually by a burglar they involve every member of your group pressing a colour, and then the result of that combination manifests itself into some kind of attack, heal or boost. Many times I asked which colour I was meant to press and no one could give me a decent answer, implying that not many people (at levels 20-30) really know what you’re meant to do. We ended up killing bosses in each instance, but each boss fight became a race to corpserun from the spawn back to the boss before other people died, and gradually wearing down the bosses like that. It wasn’t a lot of fun, and I can’t say I’m too keen to get involved in more, at least until I get to the recently-redesigned Moria instances.
So far the fun of this game has come from simply ‘being’ in the world. The story is great (as expected) and the graphics and interesting classes are nice for any MMO vet, but the world itself is truely what stands out about this game. It’s immersive, vibrant and interesting, and feels more like a roleplaying paradise than some sort of XP factory standing between you and maximum level. I’ve got bored with certain aspects of the game, but then I’ve created a new character, a human, and instantly become immersed in the brand new story I was creating with him. When I go back to my hobbit it’s like re-reading a classic book, I remember why I enjoy being that character and getting involved in all of his struggles and little victories. When I come across real-life friends in game I’m playing with their characters and learning about their little nuances and what they’ve been doing. I’ve always been too stuck-up for roleplaying properly, but it’s hard to resist in this world.