Everyone knows what the Lord of the Rings is. Not everyone has read the books, not everyone has watched the movies, and not everyone has actually experienced anything to do with Lord of the Rings. But, just like the legend of Atlantis, and the story of King Arthur, everyone has at least a basic knowledge of Lord of the Rings. When Lord of the Rings Online came out, there were the few frenzied fans who were worried that Turbine wouldn’t get the color of Gimli’s beard right, or some other insignificant detail. But everyone else seemed to be pleasantly surprised, and waited with baited breath. Then The Lord of the Rings came out, and people finally got to play it. There were those who assumed that it would be horrible, as most book to game conversions are, and those who thought Turbine would screw up. What they didn’t expect was an excellently designed game, with graphics up to par with Everquest 2, and perfectly fitting sound. And you know what? They got Gimli’s beard right after all.
Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO, for short) is a beautifully designed game, really bringing Tolkien’s world to life. It was quite obvious that Turbine had dozens of people poring over Tolkien’s books for every significant detail (and Tolkien had a lot of them), and they reconstructed Middle Earth perfectly. There are cutesy little Hobbit towns with Hobbit holes, which will make you grin every time you see them. There are grand cities; the mist-filled Barrowdowns are perfectly creepy, and the war-torn mountains of the Ettenmoors look like hell raged through. Everything looks and sounds perfect. The sounds are great to listen to, with grand sounding music for the Elven city of Rivendale, and heart pounding tribal music in the Old Forest will get your blood pumping. The role of the nazguls rode dragons was impressive in the drama. The sounds of the dragon can be heard clearly through the person watching the drama without any disturbance.
The fighting in Lord of the Rings is fun, and you can pick between four different races, the Elves, the Dwarves, the Men, and the Hobbits (yes, you can actually be a Hobbit), with seven different classes available, all of them finely balanced. Both the stealthy Burglar and the fast shooting Hunter have their distinct roles in grouping, and all the classes are able to be played on their own, without grouping, a feature that not too many MMORPGs have. You can join with other players in groups called fellowships, and in guilds called kinships, and this is fairly important to the game later on, as it can get hard.
For players who want to PVP, there is that option available, but in a different manner. Instead of just going up to a player and attacking him, when you reach level 10 you can take a portal that lets you take control of a monster class, and any players in the mountains of Ettenmoors will be able to fight you. These monsters are automatically level 50, the highest level, and not very many people are that high level yet, so it is not known how well this idea (called ‘monster play’) will turn out.
The interface in LOTRO is streamlined, well designed, easy to use…and shamelessly ripped off from World of Warcraft. But, why not rip it off? World of Warcraft did it perfectly, so Turbine took it, and even fixed some of the minor issues, and used it to good effect with LOTRO. It greatly helps with questing to have a good interface, and LOTRO supplied that.
Questing in LOTRO starts out by giving you the feeling that you’ve already done them before, with pretty standard questing. But after the first few levels of quests, they start coming into their own, with very well told storylines, and a lot of good writing for the quests. Questing is the way to go if you want to level quickly, as it is actually easier and more lucrative than grinding.
And now then there are the problems with the game. “Crickets chirping”. That’s strange. There are hardly any problems with LOTRO. There are a few nitpicky things, but they are so small, you tend to overlook them. The thing about LOTRO is that the game is actually fun to play. That sounds insignificant, but it is surprising how many games aren’t fun to play, so that’s actually a big deal. And the game was one of the most bug-free games I’ve ever played, even at launch, which is unheard of in MMORPG launches. All in all, this is a game that can easily contend with mainstream MMORPGs, and become one itself. Good looking, true to the books, and fun to play, Lord of the Rings Online may become the new World of Warcraft.