While I was streaming The Lord of the Rings Online last Sunday, I came upon a quest in part of the Epic Questline. Without spoiling anything, essentially I took part in a council - something that happens multiple times in The Lord of the Rings, famously the Council of Elrond or Entmoot - or even the Council after the Battle of Pelennor Fields when Aragorn and company decided the best course of action after Sauron’s defeat on the field of battle. However, while this quest was going on, something struck me: It all started to feel aged.
The Lord of the Rings Online is an old MMO - it just turned 12 and is crawling towards being a teenager next year. While the MMO has done a good job of staying relevant and improving both somewhat visually with each expansion, but also keeping the story fresh and interesting, it’s also fallen behind in one clear area: production value.
It feels weird for me to complain about this as well - 5 or 6 years ago I remember being on an episode of LotRO Players and praising the MMO for sticking to it’s roots in the books. “Stories like this need to be read,” I remember thinking for years, finding myself pouring over the quest dialogue each time I started a new conversation with an NPC.
However, as my Hunter stood listening to the council, I found myself bored - and while the story itself was interesting, I was literally spending almost five to six minutes watching text scrolls across my screen as characters “spoke” their lines. And it dawned on me more vividly then, though I touched on it some in my previous Review-in-progress, that LotRO really suffers from its lack of real voice acting, or even story-driven cutscenes found in other titles.
Not every MMO has cutscenes to tell events - World of Warcraft has elaborate, cinematic cutscenes and has for years - and they are fantastic. But a game like The Elder Scrolls Online can take these drawn out exposition-filled scenes and create suspense, emotion and more simply from the inclusion of voice acting. Scenes such as those early on in the Vestige questline where you see what happened to the Emperor and his entourage is more striking because you can hear the anguish and despair in his voice, as well as the malice in Mannimarco’s. Scenes in Elsweyr’s main storyline would not have been as impactful without hearing the haughty arrogance of Abnur Tharn dripping off his every word. This is what LotRO has been missing for me for all these years.
It’s kind of sad to admit as well. As someone who loves reading Tolkien’s work, you’d think I could get past this mental wall. And when I truly enjoyed this aspect in LotRO during its early years, it was mainly because it was the only game I was playing at the time. For years it was legit the only game installed, it’s what I’d spend my evenings doing when my wife and daughter would go to sleep.
Since then, though, I’ve expanded my MMO library and as more modern MMOs hit the market I find myself less and less inclined to read walls and walls of quest text. And it’s a shame because The Lord of the Rings Online tells such compelling stories - but the way they are being presented could stand to receive a refresh and it’s something I hope Standing Stone Games is willing to look into, if for no other reason that to make those council scenes - compelling and important points of exposition - more enjoyable in the long run.