Lord of the Rings Online has set the MMO world on its ear. For the long wait leading up to its release many speculated and others tested, but everyone seemed very excited. The creation of a game based around a modern classic like Lord of the Rings was certainly going to be an endeavor. The question is this though; did Turbine live up to the challenge?
Everyone knows at least the very basics of the Lord of the Rings lore. The Tolkien Estate has given Turbine the ability and rights to make the game and to add their own pieces to that timeless story.
Shadows of Angmar sees us, the regular folk, fighting for our homes against the armies of the Witch King. We are not the heroes. We are the free people of the lands of Eriador. The story is about our characters defending their homes and lands in any way they can. They are the unsung heroes that you don't get to hear about in the books.
The story can be experienced at your own pace. Through the quest system you can take missions that are split into books and chapters. These will propel you through the story that Turbine has written for us that links into the lore and stories from the books. There are some people who don't like the changes that Turbine have made, there always will be with such a popular IP, but I think that the overall story that we are getting from this online adaptation of Lord of the Rings is a good one. Without knowing the books and supporting literature by heart, you can still easily follow the stories told in the main quest series with ease and enjoyment.
The quest system as a whole is rather good. Even though it carries the same stigma as other MMOs, you'll find the stories associated with them a little more engaging. The stories that make up the regular quests aren't award winning, but they do make things a little more interesting than just being commanded to go do something without any explanation.
The quests come in a couple of different flavors. The first type is the most obvious; the solo mission. There are no surprises in the mission types for solo quests. As you progress through the levels, the missions advance in difficulty to match you, at least for the most part. Sometimes though, the solo missions can feel a bit too hard to go it alone. Depending on your class, you may find soloing harder or easier. A class like the Minstrel, for example, might have a harder time soloing than say, a Champion.
The other types of quests are known as Fellowship Quests. These quests are missions that are best completed with a group, or as they are appropriately named in LotRO, fellowships. This is, of course, only a recommendation and you can try the quests alone if you prefer, but a little backup is usually a good idea. Again, depending on your class, these can be harder or easier to complete. Fellowship Quests vary from simple group-based collection missions, to the sometimes much more difficult elite and boss killing quests. Some of the fellowship missions are big instances, but many are straight forward and just need a good group effort to complete. The fellowship quests that aren't instanced can sometimes take a bit of patience if there are other groups currently trying to do the same quest. This problem arises depending on just how busy the server you're playing on is (at the time of publication, there are currently 11 servers to choose from with the US client). Overall the fellowship quests are enjoyable and each class has a role to fill; encouraging the social aspect of the game as well as good team work.
Race and Class
Whether doing solo quests or fellowship quests, you will see many aspects of the different classes and the combat system. Each class has its place and abilities that are needed in combat. What class you can play is dependant on your race. There are four races currently available for play: Man, Elf, Dwarf, Elf and Hobbit. Certain classes are only available to specific races. The classes include: Champion, Lore Master, Captain, Guardian, Hunter, Burglar and Minstrel.
With each race you also have certain traits that are automatically a part of your arsenal that make each class more or less suitable. As you play you are able to learn further traits (used to give players extra bonuses) through the deeds system; a vital part of LotRO.
The deeds system is a set of mini quests that you discover throughout your gameplay. Unlike regular quests, which are assigned to you by NPCs, these deed quests are assigned to you based on your actions in the game.
For example: When you complete your eleventh quest in the area of Ered Luin, you are notified that you are starting a deed called "Defender of Ered Luin". After completing 20 of these quests, you have earned the deed, the reward for which is a trait: Compassion +1, which improves your: Ranged Vulnerability, Power Regeneration and Magic Vulnerability.
When you discover one of these new deeds a message shows on your screen and it is added into your deed book. The reward for completing a deed is either a trait, as mentioned earlier, or a title.
Traits can be equipped by talking to a Bard. The Bard does charge for equipping these traits and you only have a specific number of slots available to equip traits depending on your level. These traits are a way to personalise your character within your class and race. While the customization isn't major, it is more than you get in other games. These traits allow you to modify yourself or even get extra actions you can perform. Combat uses traits extensively along with skills that you can learn as you level.
The combat system within LotRO isn't unique, but it is easy to understand. You have skills that you activate during combat. Some have special requirements in order to be activated, such as a certain combat state or only after a kill has been made. You also have skills for non-combat such as healing and buffing. All in all, pretty standard MMO combat.
The one thing that I find truly interesting about the combat system is position importance. By this I mean that where you are standing in relation to the monster is important. The most obvious example is the Burglar doing sneak damage to a target. In order to do this, he needs to sneak up behind the target and not be spotted. LotRO isn't the first game to do this, but it does make the game's combat more engaging.
Fighting in a fellowship takes on new dimensions when you not only have to think about your own role, but that of your fellows and their positions. Just to make it a little more exciting, Turbine has also included Fellowship Maneuvers. These are special combination attacks that can be executed by the fellowship. They can do massive damage or even heal the team. There are a couple of frustrations to these though. On your own, you have to figure out what those combinations are. While this can be fun, briefly, it can also be (And I found it often) irritating and time consuming.
Overall, combat isn't hard to learn and once you've figured it out, you're set for whatever else you may play within the game in the future. Some may find it repetitive, but there are plenty of other activities in the game to occupy you if you get tired of fighting.
US and EU Split
When Turbine decided to split the servers between the EU and the US, they also made a conscious decision to split the communities. This has its good and bad sides. The good is obvious things such as time zone, play style and language. The bad are again the play style and time zone. Turbine also decided on two separate clients for the different servers. This of course causes complications if you happen to be in the area of one server, but for whatever reason would want to play on the other servers. Generally this split of the servers seems to work fine and it is understandable why they've done it, but it would have maybe been better to create a single client that allows you to select which servers you wish to play on.
Over the last month I have been playing with both communities. In general both have made me feel welcome and I've enjoyed playing with both sets of players. One thing that the EU servers have over the US ones is the specific official roleplay servers. This, to me, is an advantage to those who wish to immerse themselves further into the game and play in yet another style. On the US serves there are no official roleplay server and I wish they would create at least one for those who want it.
Roleplay servers aside, I like both communities very much. Generally they are both very friendly and helpful. There are problem players on the US and EU servers, but that is to be expected. A large majority of the community seems to be very mature on both sets of servers and that is a definite breath of fresh air.