JR Sutich has spent the last few weeks in the Lord of the Rings Online beta and emerges today with our exclusive preview of the game. Doing his due-diligence, Sutich tried a variety of the game's core systems and reports back on some of the finer details many prospective players are craving.
Article by JR "Razor" Sutich
Lord of the Rings Online is currently in Beta. Thankfully, I was able to get an invite, or I wouldn't have been able to play the game that will probably be my next MMO purchase.
After downloading and installing the client, I rolled up a Human Champion, named Betachamp. I won't tell you what my first character was named, but rest assured, it would have gotten me insta-banned. Suffice to say, the name filter needs work. The character creation is interesting with several options for geographic origin which affect the color choices for hair, eyes, and skin. After making myself look as much like Conan as I could, I entered the world... and found myself in prison. Thankfully, I was assisted by a friendly Ranger, and started beating on guards until I got my first look at one of the things which make this game a unique experience. I got to see a Nazgul, and it was impressive.
I'm glad I didn't have to engage it, since I'm sure it would have one-shotted me. Soon I was out of jail and got my first view of the world. It looked great with a lot of attention to detail, especially at night. The night sky looked familiar with constellations I've seen before and the reflection of the moon on the water almost made me forget it was just a game. The quests in this area did a good job of familiarizing me with the area and some of the story that was to unfold for my character. But that story is for another time.
Let's take a look at some of the features and mechanics of the game.
The game looks great. However this comes with a price, and that is right now textures will kill your machine if you don't have at least 2GB of RAM. If not, I'd suggest reducing texture detail to Medium or Low. Since the game is still in Beta, I'd expect that this will get addressed before launch. The amount of detail in the environment from waving fields of flora to the water is amazing though. Character and creature models are well done, especially capes, which would give a certain superhero MMO a run for its money.
Sound effects in LOTRO are fairly standard and don't get repetitive. The music is good, but one of the first things I do when I start a game is kill the in game music, sorry Audio Engineers, but I'm the type that will choose performance over atmosphere. Player music, however, I will leave on simply because it's a good experience to see some of the creativity of the players. You haven't lived until you've heard Fade to Black or Master of Puppets played by a Hobbit standing on a table at the Prancing Pony.
The combat system is for the most part fast and well-balanced. Except for the part where mobs will double or triple stack DoT's and Debuffs on you. Again, this is still in Beta and I hope this will get looked at. Each class does get enough of a variety of attacks so that you aren't hitting the same three one after another in a fight. Animations are nice and smooth, and the effects for special attacks don't induce seizures. Making sure that you have a good combination of classes in your Fellowship will make things easier, but the game is able to be enjoyed solo as well.
Crafting is fun. And for me to say that means something, since I usually loathe crafting in MMOs. I think it has something to do with grinding 9,887 rifle barrels, or getting killed by a Forge in some other games. The crafting system is interesting and not too complicated. After choosing a set of professions, you are able to start making things that you can actually sell! There is a level of interdependency between Crafters which will also help a player driven economy. One of the great features is that once you master a level of crafting, you can then get critical successes which will result in improved products, some of which are better than epic loot of the same level range. This also applies to the tools that are used to make these products as well. I think that having the better gear possible to be made by players will add a level of commerce that hasn't been seen for quite some time.
Resource gathering is also refreshing in LOTRO. There are plenty of resource nodes to be found and they do not have static spawn points, but rather random within an area. This means that you won't be able to set a bot program to go to specific coordinates, in theory. Anything that hinders farming of this nature is a good thing.
The quests in the game are well written and the main storyline is something I can't wait to see more of. Sure you can't be the Ringbearer or anything like that, but you will get to interact and feel like if you didn't do "A" then Frodo and the boys couldn't have done "B". The one thing you may notice is that due to the sheer number of quests available, you can get overwhelmed. At one time I had 27 quests in my log and it seemed like only about 3 were in the same area. Also, pay special attention to if whether quest is recommended for a group or not. Not realizing it and then not realizing that you are fighting an Elite Face Eater until it hits you for 1/3 of your health is a bummer.
Let's move on to a couple of things that make LOTRO unique.
For the Socializers
There are some things that have been included in LOTRO that really have no effect on the game world or your character except to give it more um...character. One of them is a Pie Eating contest that is found at some Festival Grounds. Once per game day (Every 90-120 min I think) a Hobbit holds a pie-eating contest. If you can eat 6 pies in 60 seconds, you are declared the Pie-Eating Champion and can add that title to your characters name. That's important when meeting up with Brigands, so they know you mean business.
There is also an arena of sorts, where there is PvP possible. And this PvP is also known as Freeze Tag. You can start a game and anyone in the area is considered playing. One person is randomly selected as being "IT" and they can tag others by running their avatar into others. Once tagged, you get a special state applied and a nice graphic of your feet in a block of ice. Other players can free you by standing next to you for a short time. Once all the players have been frozen, a new round starts with another randomly selected "IT". I predict this will become easily griefable in that once you are playing, there is no way to quit other than leaving the area. If a group of people freeze you then stands around to point and laugh, you are stuck. Also, Hunters get to use their +15% run speed buff, so I'm calling for a nerf in Freeze Tag already. I know. But I take my frivolous games seriously.
One of the coolest features of the game is this system. Every so often you will get a message that you have opened up a new entry in your Journal/Log. These can come from killing a certain type of mob, discovering a new area, or even getting certain emotes directed to you from other players. Some of these can grant you special titles, and some can even give you new attacks or traits that you can use to enhance your character. For those that like a "to-do" list, this is certainly going to keep you enthralled, because there's always something new to do and you won't know what will give you a new item. I really hate to say it, but if a certain other game had this system in place and kept it hidden, I wouldn't have had to make those 9,887 rifle barrels to unlock a special class.
This one feature pretty much sealed the deal for me on LOTRO. At first, I was angsty about not getting to roll a character in an "evil" race and play the game for the side of Sauron. Then I found the Monster Play portal, and I was instantly hooked. Sure, you don't get much in the way of customizing your look or gear, but you can still do a lot to tailor your chosen monster class to your playstyle. As a minion of Sauron, you will be able to undertake quests just like on your normal character, but rather than get experience, you will get Destiny Points. These can be used to enhance your MP character with extra damage, extra defense or new attacks. The best part of all of this is that you will get to choose a name and if you play long enough, and well enough against other players, you will eventually be able to rise to the level of an Elite monster. This means that instead of players gathering together to take on a PvE boss, they will have to group up to take on you. As cool as the good guys are, I will be spending most of my time playing as a monster, because nothing feels better than smacking Hobbits around.
Overall, I'd say that LOTRO is shaping up to be a game that many will enjoy playing. Barring any "last week of Beta" mishaps, like changing the way Stealth for Burglars works, I think this may be the next MMO I give serious playtime to. And for those of you who get lucky enough to run into an Elite Uruk-hai named Grumsch, try not to cry when you get the smack laid down on you.
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