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Standing Stone Games | Official Site
MMORPG | Setting:Fantasy | Status:Final  (rel 04/24/07)  | Pub:Daybreak Games
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LOTRO's Minstrel Is Its Most Interesting Class For All The Lore Reasons

By Joseph Bradford on July 30, 2019 | Columns | Comments

LOTRO's Minstrel Is Its Most Interesting Class For All The Lore Reasons

One of the key balances the developers at Standing Stone Games (SSG) have to deal with is creating a fun and engaging game while also adapting arguably the most fully realized and beloved fictional universe in literature. As a result, adapting The Lord of the Rings to an MMO is obviously going to come with concessions. With MMOs, especially those in the mid-to-late 2000s, trying to replicate the “WoW” formula “Holy Trinity” was inescapable. How then do the developers make classes that both fit the MMO formula, and Tolkien’s world?

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In my opinion, The Minstrel class feels like the perfect answer.

Other classes, such as the Lore-Master and the Captain, feel right at home in Tolkien’s world. With the Lore-Master specifically, there is something intrinsically Tolkienian about taking the knowledge of the Ages of the World - essentially how time is tracked in Middle-earth; the movies and books take place at the end of the Third Age -  and using that knowledge as power. Also, the Radagast touches with animal kinship were definitely nice.

But, there is a theme that runs throughout The Lord of the Rings which even can be seen as early as The Hobbit - words have power. The Rune Master class tried to fill this void - but I think it ultimately felt more like a Sith shooting lightning out of their hands than something that would intrinsically fit within Tolkien’s Legendarium. But the Minstrel, using Words of Power to spur on enemies and demoralize foes, is the class I feel Standing Stone Games knocked out of the park.


In The Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO), you don’t have the traditional Life bar you do in other games. Sure, technically a life bar exists - when it’s depleted you have to respawn elsewhere. But SSG were smart calling the resource Morale instead of Life. This key difference helps make the Minstrel feel right at home as LOTRO’s main healing class. 

 

Morale is huge in any battle, fictional or otherwise. Battles are won and lost oftentimes because of the morale of the troops fighting as the tactical skill of the leaders of those armies can shatter an enemy’s confidence. The Lord of the Rings shows us this is no different in Middle-earth.

Think back to The Battle of the Hornburg (Helm’s Deep). Whichever version you remember - whether it be the movie when Gandalf shows up with Eomer, or the books where he arrives with Erkenbrand - the battle felt lost until Gandalf and the host of Rohan appeared at dawn to turn the tides. The morale of the Rohirrim, Eomer’s forces, was raised while the Uruk army of Saruman was demoralized in that one fatal push from the Deeping Wall.

 

This is replicated in one of the most pivotal moments in the great battle of the Third Age: The Battle of the Pelennor Fields. All hope is lost, Theoden King had been slain, Eowyn wounded, and the host of Mordor were relentless. However, when the Banner of the King of Gondor was unfurled on the boats and Aragorn jumped forth to War leading a host of Men (Or the Army of the Dead in the Movies), Tolkien describes the mood of both armies:
Thus came Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elessar, Isildur’s heir, out of the Paths of the Dead, borne upon a wind from the Sea to the kingdom of Gondor; and the mirth of the Rohirrim was a torrent of laughter and a flashing of swords, and the joy and wonder of the City was a music of trumpets and a ringing of bells. But the hosts of Mordor were seized with bewilderment, and a great wizardry it seemed to them that their own ships should be filled with their foes; and a black dread fell on them, knowing that the tides of fate had turned against them and their doom was at hand.” - The Battle of the Pelennor Fields, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Why does this matter to the Minstrel class? Think back to the Minstrel class and how LOTRO treats your life/health bar. When you heal an ally, you are providing Morale in a dark place. When you use a Word of Power to harm an enemy, you are in turn demoralizing that enemy. To me, the fact that you can have your Morale bolstered to continue fighting using not just Words of Power but also Music speaks to the core of Tolkien’s creation.

The world of Arda, the Universe itself, was created through music. The Ainulindale, the Music of the Ainur, laid the foundation that would create the world. All of recorded history up until the Fourth Age was told in the Music of the Ainur, and the Music of the World holds a power that can be potent. Even in real life, music holds a certain power we don’t quite understand. It can soothe, heal, frustrate, and exhilarate people in ways no other art can come close to doing. 

While the Minstrel has had a bumpy road, going from uber powerful healer to being tweaked so it’s soloable so much that the Rune Keeper can pick up the slack from the Minstrel in large battles, as a massive Tolkien nerd, it makes me so happy that even in building the classes they got it so right with the lore. The balancing act when creating The Lord of the Rings Online is one the developers at Standing Stone Games had to get right, and even 12 years on, I still appreciate the little touches and the standout ones. The Minstrel is a master class in adapting the established lore of the world and creating something unique and wonderful.

Now if only I could stop playing my Hunter long enough to finish leveling my Minstrel….

Joseph Bradford / Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore
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