The day has come and the clandestine cover of the Lord of The Rings Online beta test NDA has been lifted. I am at last free to offer my impressions of this highly acclaimed title from Turbine, considered to be one of the top potential MMO releases of 2007.
I enjoyed this game. I spent about 3 weeks playing through early beta and I have returned after wipes to test out features and see what progress Turbine has made during the latter implementation phases, and I can say that while I am unlikely to play post-launch, I think this game has promise. Turbine certainly has a great deal of content to back fill to flesh out the game and tighten up the polish, but LoTRO has some very creative mechanics and entertaining game play.
But First The Bad:
Immersion into the battle for Middle Earth is difficult. Turbine actually did a very good job incorporating elements of the Rings trilogy into the MMO lore, but also suffered quite a bit from the bulk of such an extensive and comprehensive licences. The trek from Bree to Rivendale is short and uneventful and the landscape lacks any significant 'high adventure.' Were this generic MMO, it would be commonplace but the user expects to be accosted by Orc, and pursued by Ring Wraiths and an MMO setting just can't simulate the journey of the Nine like a film can. Besides who gets to be Gandalf?
Magic is far too prevalent. Gandalf lit fires the old fashioned way for a reason. He had limited magic and only in rare events did he use it. Healing was done by a very special few. In LoTRO in order to accomplish the traditional MMO role archetypes, Turbine introduced alternate interpretations of magic and healing. Health and Mana are not there, but the two colored bars that represent it are. A rose by any other name... Bards 'heal' characters by playing tunes and lifting their spirits, but in the end, Bards are the priests and paladins of Middle Earth and Lore Masters are the wizards.
Static Mobs. In my first few hours I recall wandering out into the noob zones, hunting wolves. The wolves barely moved from their spawn spot, and graphically they were quite limited. This underwent significant improvements during the later content upgrades, but it never reached a level indicative of a top tier MMO.
Wow That Sounds Like Crap... I Thought You Liked This Game:
I do. I said it has potential and I meant it. Game dynamics are excellent and the game is quite fun to play. There is a feat style character development system that I really enjoyed. They are not game breaking advancement, but you get cool titles and small stat bonuses as you acquire these Accomplishments. At one point I killed a bunch of brigands on the roads and received a title Cyndre "Watcher of Roads" and another for exploring so many different elven ruins. I wish more MMO titles added these types of 'flavor' elements to their games.
Combat is very well thought out and designed. I consider it to be one of the best examples of organic combat on the market, rivaling Warcraft in terms of smooth animations and polished actions and animations. For a while my Bard lacked any real actions but these were added around the time that instruments were added to the class.
Class use is creative, and despite my dislike of the prevalence of magic, I don't see how they could have gotten away without a healing archetype and a ranged caster archetype. If they had to implement them, they did so well and with very deft mechanics. I played a Bard for the better part of my time in Middle Earth and I enjoyed it. They were able to implement the class with minimal use of twisting a la EQ Bard.
All in all, I wish Turbine the best in this endeavor. I think their release will be quite successful given their delay in following the release of Vanguard and Burning Crusade and quite a few subscriptions will go their way. If they continue to update the content and polish at the pace that I witnessed in Beta, they will have a very solid title 1 year, 2 years 5 years from now.