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Hands On: First 10 Levels

Dana Massey Posted:
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Lord of the Rings Online: Hands-On, First 10 Levels (Page 2 of 3)

The tutorial may have received full points on Middle-Earth style points, but mini-quests were also extremely simple, artificial and disjointed. This was a shame, since I would soon learn that the game's real world quests were nothing of the sort. At one point, my Hobbit guide was busy hacking through a spider web while I had to defend him from spiders. That meant, kill three spiders as they drop one at a time (slowly) from a web above right beside us. When I killed the third, the web he was "working on" disappeared. I by no means expect frantic action while I'm still looking for my sword, but some kind of emotion would have been great.

As the Hobbit tutorial was not complete, the second phase was actually the Human tutorial area. There, I was in one of Turbine's new layered instances. That is, an area where a bunch of newbies are sent. It is public, in a way, but not yet quite in the real world. Ultimately, the town I was in would burn down as part of the introductory quest and after that instance, my Hobbit was in the real world.

Nonetheless, this middle section was greatly improved over the previous. There were literally more quests than I could ever hope to do. I got through my early levels without ever having a want for quests. Never did I go grind. After a while, I jumped back on the main thread and tried to save the town from raiders, a quest that was set up quite seamlessly by the quests before it, but failed. The town burned down and boom, they sent me back to the Shire (a beta mechanic, since normally a Hobbit would not have been off in the human lands so early anyway).

My quibbles about the early quests were three-fold. Despite being told many times that Lord of the Rings Online would not be about reading pages of dialogue, but experiencing your own story, I found myself skipping pages of dialogue. The quests also often told me to do simple things like kill six wolves or ten bandits. However, they did do a great job of throwing in interesting little ripples like searching for (the body) of a lost raider while off to kill spiders. Finally, while I applaud the quest writers for not making things too easy by putting a little dot on the map that showed players where the dogs they needed to kill were, they were also clearly more familiar with the landmarks of their own world than a newbie would be. Often, the text directions of where to go were confusing or meant nothing and too often I found myself lost. This problem would persist each time I went to a new area in the game, but quickly dissipate once I got my bearings. This could be remedied with slightly more explicit direction in the first few quests a player is likely to undertake in a new area of the world.

On the plus side, Turbine did a good job of taking familiar MMO quest mechanics and creating new and fun quests from them. For example, back in the Shire, I helped a Hobbit find his charges during a game of hide and seek. Extremely simple, but the quest was good fun and even taught me the geography of the area.

The best thing Turbine did with quests was the sheer quantity of them. Little rings on the mini map show quest givers in the character's general vicinity. I did dozens of quests in each area of the land I traveled through and never managed to even accept all that were offered. Someone who just had to experience everything could spend days in the early level areas doing quests and I am not sure the well would ever run dry. I explored the whole Shire and good chunk of the human lands and had more quests than I knew what to do with. It was - at times - overwhelming. Not that that is a bad problem to have.

To help with this, Turbine added a little progress list on the right side of the screen. There, players can add or remove quests to their active list and have simple instructions on what their next step is. All that needs to be done is to click on one to bring up even more detailed instructions. The tool was intuitive and handy. For example, when I left the Human areas for the Shire, I removed the old quests from my active list. I still had them and even re-added them when I went back to Human territory, but since I had no hope of completing them all those miles away, I just stowed them until I wanted to take them up again.

General Gameplay
Time was flying in San Francisco, but I had no idea. The game's pacing never left me frustrated for levels at the early stage. If anything, the game may have been a tad fast. Sometimes I leveled up twice before noticing. Nonetheless, hitting level 10 in seven hours is not a bad curve, although I would expect it slows down noticeably after that.

The most impressive thing about Lord of the Rings Online was the way they laid out their world. I actually had to ask to see if monsters scaled with characters. It seemed that no matter what I was doing, the monsters around me were always in my general level range.

"That's just good game design," Jeff Anderson told me.

He's right, it is. Too often, MMORPGs throw you on some quest and leave you in an area of the world with monsters that are beneath your notice or too strong to imagine. Lord of the Rings Online never did that to me. It seemed like just before I would outstrip the enemies in my area, a quest would send me off to a new one and I'd never be the wiser.

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Dana Massey