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Lord of the Rings Online General Article: Returning to LOTRO

By Phil James on December 24, 2010

I’m in limbo.

I don’t mean that my character has died and I’m a spirit running back to my corpse. I mean I’m between games. I no longer have a main MMO to play. Like most players, I’ve always spent my time exclusively in one or two games. For me EQII and WoW have been my homes, but now I’m spending less time with them.

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I have been in this position before and I’ll usually buy a couple of other titles and try them out for the free month. So far, no other title has held me past that month so I end up coming home to Azeroth and Norrath. This time, there aren’t any games I haven’t played before that are tempting me. Maybe it’s time to revisit those games that I tried briefly and abandoned. Maybe if I try them again, I’ll find a new place to call home.

I imagine there are some people out there who might say, “If you are bored of your main games, why not leave MMOs altogether? You don’t need to sub to any at all, get out there and live in the real world.”

WARNING! People who think like this are deranged and should be avoided, whatever you do, don’t make eye contact.

The first game I thought of coming back to was Lord of the Rings Online. While I didn’t play it for long, I do have very fond memories of it. Before I first played, I had been reading the books, so I rolled a hobbit to adventure in all the places in the Shire I had been reading about. I wasn’t disappointed, I loved delivering pies around the villages of Hobbiton, Tuckborough, and Little Delvin. I made a point of looking for the Party Tree as soon as I got into the main world. The sights and sounds of the game did a great job of conjuring up the feelings I got from reading the books.

So why didn’t I carry on playing LotRO? Well, the truth is that it wasn’t a great deal different from the games I was already into. The quest-heavy aspects of WoW and EQII are present in Middle Earth too. While I do gravitate toward questing games more than sandboxes where I have to make my own entertainment, I couldn’t really justify subbing to three games, each of them offering me a similar experience. But now I’m officially playing nothing, maybe Tolkien’s world could satisfy my search for new quests.

Downloading the client again was a breeze. When I last played, I had to install the basic game and add all of the patches one by one, which was a pain. Now the website has a link to install the full client. I was very pleased to be in the game in about three hours.

It’s not news to anyone that LotRO has a free to play model. I decided against this route as the purpose of this feature was to see if subscribing for another month would convince me to stay, not the delights of playing for free. Plus I wanted access to all content instead of paying for it piecemeal.

I still had my level 35 Hobbit guardian , but I wanted to check out the new player experience again as I’d read that it had changed recently. I rolled another hobbit, a burglar (timeless classic), and I was in.

The newbie area didn’t disappoint. Right from the start, it’s heavy on lore and cameos. Before very long I had bumped into Frodo and the gang as they were leaving the Shire, and not long after that I encountered Strider and a menacing Nazgul. The quests themselves were almost all based around one story: the tale of bandits preparing to attack the town of Archet. This was good for me as I don’t really like too many plot lines going on at the same time, I lose track of why I’m doing what for whom and in the end I give up keeping it all straight in my head. At this point I usually stop paying attention to quest dialogue.

After completing the beginner’s instance and being plopped into the world, I logged out to try out the newly revamped Elven starting area. Again this was a more streamlined experience than it had been before, centred around a single story thread. This wasn’t so heavy on lore from the books, but still enjoyable. I rolled a Warden, one of the new classes (well new to me anyway). The thing I like about the Warden is that you carry a shield, your main weapon and a javelin, making your character bristle with weapons, which is pretty rockin’. This is a tank class, but is also very versatile due to the gambit system. Clicking your abilities generates gambit builders, shown on your screen with either a spear, shield or fist icon. Each builder adds its icon to a chain and building up your chain opens up a more powerful attack. So far my chains are only two builders long, but I’m assured that longer chains will be available eventually.

They won’t be available to me, however. Trying out alts is fun, but burning away at the back of my mind was the fact that my main character was idling away. So I stepped into the shoes...umm, I mean hairy feet of my Hobbit guardian. Returning to an old character is always something I find a bit baffling. It’s almost as if I’m playing somebody else’s alt. I have a journal full to bursting with quests in areas I don’t recognise any longer; my bags are full of junk I need to sort out – what I was planning to sell, what I was hanging on to. In the end I decided to sell the lot, if I had no use for it during the time I didn’t play, I won’t miss it now. I also had to relearn all the abilities in my hotbars. The way I usually do this is, instead of throwing myself in at the deep end and learning them all at once, I clear my hotbars completely. Then I add abilities to it one at a time, adding one then getting into a couple of fights to see its effectiveness. It appeals to the neat OCD part of me that likes to reorganise things, it also gives me the time to work out the combos that used to be second nature to me.

One of the things I loved about LotRO the first time around was the epic quest line. These quests runs alongside the story of the books, intersecting in a lot of places. The only downside is that a lot of them required me to group up, the trick here was sourcing a group of players on the same stage as me. Sometimes I managed to get a group of like-minded people who would help out those who were on an earlier stage of the quest chain, then we could all continue the story together. Many times though, I would solo away while waiting for other players to join me.

The quest journal allows you to link a quest to the Looking for Fellowship (LFF) page, fellowships being LotRO’s name for groups. This time around I assumed that most people would be past the stage I was on, but I had forgotten about the new players being enticed to the game by its new price structure. Before long I had received a reply to my call to arms. Only one player, however, the two of us decided to give the instance a go. I’m not sure if the difficulty of the main story quests has been toned down since I last played, but the two of us sailed through easily. I didn’t get much of an idea of what the community is like as the two of us had little interaction. I don’t know any Spanish besides the word Peligro (many thanks to Sesame Street) and he no “hablo Ingles” (apologies to all Spanish speakers as I probably butchered your language there). Still we got along just fine as all LotRO players speak the common language of Orc Stomping. Job done, the group disbanded and I found myself unable to continue the epic quest chain, being two levels shy of the requirement for picking up the next part.

So far, my journeys through Middle Earth have been of the rediscovery variety. Since I last played, the Mines of Moria and Mirkwood have been added as expansion packs. I’m really looking forward to reaching those lands, so I’m making that my goal for my one month’s return. So far it’s going well as I have had Cataclysm purring away at me from my hard drive for the whole week, and I’ve managed to resist it’s lure (mostly). Tune in next week so see how my resolve holds up.

Phil James / Husband, Father, Comedian, Writer. Sort of in that order.

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