Choose My Adventure: Preparing to re-enter Lord of the Rings Online

The votes are in, and the next four weeks will be spent in Lord of the Rings Online! This one quite genuinely surprised me, not because I think the game lacks fans (I know it’s got a lot of those) but because I really didn’t think it would get such a groundswell of support. But it did, and so we’re heading to Middle-Earth for a few weeks.

Middle-Earth and I have a rather different relationship than the one I have with Tamriel, even though it kind of averages out to about the same thing. I also, ironically, have a LOTRO collector’s edition in my house, despite having never played the game for more than a couple of days. They were giving them out at PAX East the first year; it’s still not redeemed. I don’t actually know if it’s still any good, for that matter.

Unlike the previous game I’ve covered in this column, LOTRO has not recently had an enormous update that renovates the entire way the game works. It does, however, have a devoted fanbase that is understandably a bit worried about the game’s long-term health at the moment, since we just recently learned that everything about the game’s management is changing. That’s a big deal.

I realize that some of the people who are reading this are probably fond of Daybreak. This is not an enthusiasm I share. I wonder how much of that has to do with memories of the days when Sony Online Entertainment was one of the only companies out there in the MMO space compared to what Daybreak is now. They’ve acquired something of a reputation over the past two years, and from the “covering the industry” side, I will say it’s pretty much all deserved.

Seeing the news that LOTRO is spinning off from Turbine into a separate company with Daybreak as a publisher… it’s not the worst news, no, but it also isn’t fist-pumpingly great news. I remember the comments when it was announced were a mixture of flat “what” and terrified “what?!” in equal measure.

That’s the bad part. The good part is that LOTRO has still had its license renewed once more, and that’s perfect, because the game is on the doorstep of finally reaching the same goal that it has been working toward since launch. We’re not at Mordor just yet, but we’re almost there.

This is probably fine.

LOTRO, for the few who do not know, has been very firmly established as following the path of the Fellowship and serving as what amounts to the backup crew following the events of the novel. This might sound like it’s kind of limiting, but there’s so much space and so many things going on in the Lord of the Rings stories that they naturally lend themselves to this sort of game. You’re not just gamely tagging along behind the real heroes; you’re doing all of the hard legwork necessary to make the stuff that the heroes do actually work.

This makes LOTRO something of an original of the species; long before most other MMORPGs were making a big selling point out of story, this game was following one closely and giving players a chance to be big movers and shakers. The amount of space left over from the books and the sheer volume of possibility also means that the story has room to feel impactful without stepping on toes, which is cool. If I were big into Lord of the Rings, I probably would have been all over it at launch.

I am not, however, a big fan of Lord of the Rings.

This isn’t a case where “not a big fan” means “I dislike this thing,” mind; it just never quite grabbed me in the same way. Part of that is timing, I’m sure, as I somehow wound up polluting my mind with Dragonlance novels before I read The Fellowship of the Ring, so to my perception Tolkien came later, and his very saga-heavy storytelling didn’t appeal to my character-centric view of things. But part of it is just, well, not caring for the books all that much. I have an enormous fondness for The Hobbit, but my enjoyment of Tolkien pretty much stops there.

My admiration and respect for the man does not, but that’s not really enough to build an enjoyment of the novels. Even when one of my favorite fantasy authors is a noted Tolkien scholar, it just doesn’t grab me. I imagine it’s what it would feel like to be neutral about The Beatles.

As a result, I’ve long admired LOTRO from afar rather than getting into it. The game is, at its core, very true to the original concept of the books. It doesn’t go off into wild fits of fancy and add on huge amounts of lore entirely in contrast to the existing nature of the lore; there are no Dread Knights or unusual races beyond the stock options of Man, Elf, Dwarf, and Hobbit. (And Beorning, at this point, but that’s a special case.) Heck, some fans are still split on the game’s lone pseudo-caster class, which requires a bit of massaging to fit into the lore of the game properly.

Live for one night only, followed by several more nights.

In a way, this makes the game feel more limited, simply because the defaults of Tolkien’s setting have been exported so many times that they feel like the defaults. (By definition, they’re not generic, since the work in question created the genre, but they feel that way.) At the same time, it drips flavor in other ways. Character classes keep the oddly more occupational feel of the novel; you’re a Burglar rather than a Thief, a Guardian or a Champion rather than a Warrior. Your party’s morale is kept up by Minstrels rather than having your wounds healed by a Cleric. In short, it’s a step back from the rather gamified tropes of fantasy and into an alternate direction.

I tried the game at one point, briefly. It felt a bit like some strange alternate universe where everything is almost familiar but not quite right, like if you woke up tomorrow and lived in a world where McDonald’s lived and died by its chicken sandwiches, everyone ate chicken, and Kentucky Fried Beef was a franchise that made its name by offering beef instead of chicken. It’s recognizable, but just subtly wrong.

Perhaps I’ll feel the same way in a month, or perhaps I won’t. We’ll find out, won’t we? And while I dust off my ancient CE to see whether the code from it still works (questionable), you can all amuse yourself by picking out my class from a very limited suite of options. Since Justin has an irrational hatred of elves and writes the most about LOTRO, it was inevitable that I’d play one; the real question is which flavor of elf.

CMA: What class should my elf be?

  • Guardian (11%, 52 Votes)
  • Warden (56%, 256 Votes)
  • Champion (33%, 149 Votes)

Total Voters: 457

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Hey, I know the category of things I like. Which also includes the category of joke polls I like.

CMA: Is Legolas overrated?

  • Yes. (12%, 44 Votes)
  • Hell yes. (20%, 72 Votes)
  • Who cares? But yes. (38%, 138 Votes)
  • Why do none of these polls involve elf butts? I'm upset that I can't get in on that brief running joke any more. Anyhow, yes. (22%, 78 Votes)
  • I am Randy Newman and I say yes. (8%, 28 Votes)

Total Voters: 360

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As usual, voting concludes Friday at noon, so I will (hopefully) have time to play and think about my experience before the next installment a week from now. Vote early, and I’ll see you all back here in a week; until then, you can feel free to leave feedback in the comments down below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com.

Welcome to Choose My Adventure, the column in which you join Eliot each week as he journeys through mystical lands on fantastic adventures — and you get to decide his fate. You do not, however, get to decide whether or not he will share in your height envy. He’s reasonably tall.
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