Choose My Adventure: Nice things about Lord of the Rings Online

The thing about the level of Lord of the Rings Online that I'm playing at is that they are not exactly replete with choices. I am reliably informed (by you lovely readers, no less) that you can pretty easily dart between starter areas if you so desire, but that's about it; the lower levels are a fairly linear experience. It kind of makes sense, seeing as how it's a game with a pretty straightforward narrative and drive, but it also means that the whole process is a bit straightforward.

However, last week I feel like I did a fair bit of grousing about the game, which isn't entirely fair. Another week of pointing out the same things wouldn't really accomplish much of use, would it? Instead, I want to talk today about all of the stuff I'm liking about the game. I can't promise that one or two minor complaints might work their way in there, but that's not my focus for the day.

Now I'm looking pretty in an Elven gazebo.First and foremost, you'll probably notice from the screenshots alone that I spent some of the currency that came from my (extremely old) CE for the game to buy some appearance items, which meant playing around with the appearance system a bit. It is still one of the best appearance systems out there, and it's only made better by the fact that I believe it's one of earliest ones to boot. You can turn almost any armor piece on or off as you wish, drag and drop an outfit out of whatever pieces you'd like, and save the whole thing separately. I find that intensely satisfying. There are even display mannequins throughout the game with full outfits in case you want a fresh look but aren't sure how you want to look.

It also all seems to be keeping pretty well in line with the game world that's been created. LOTRO is a rather low-magic setting, and cosmetic gear does not allow you to march around in a two-piece swimsuit while slaying foes or have magical sparkles following you everywhere you run. It's pretty without resorting to the usual special effects, something I can appreciate.

The combat is also slowly taking more advantage of complexities that let Warden perform a bit better, or at least I'm noticing them more. Enemies that root you and run away make swapping to the ranged stance an intelligent tactical decision rather than just something to do, and things are lasting long enough that I have time to get more than a single gambit in during combat. It's still definitely low-level combat, but there's more going on.

Equally vital is that the story is beginning to come into its own, and in part it's doing so by really capitalizing on something that I've noted in previous installments as a bit of a drawback: the sheer longevity of these elves. Your character has personally been around for a very long time, and that means you have a very different perspective on things than other races.

I've dinged the game in the past for not doing a great job of conveying the time gaps involved, but that works out somewhat to its advantage here; you, as a player, don't really register those gaps, but the elves wouldn't either. To you, "dwarves are kind of untrustworthy" isn't some ancient racial prejudice; it's something you remember happening very recently, and while you know that may not be universal, you also know that the untrustworthy ones aren't exactly outcasts from society.

So there are reasons to distrust the dwarves, even though we as players know that they're among the good guys. That's tricky to accomplish at the best of times, even more so when we (as the audience) know full well that Legolas and Gimli are going to be hopping across the the countryside killing Orcs together for giggles in the near future. Making that narrative tension still work is something I can appreciate.

It also plays into the tension established with the whole "heading to the West" thing, since some of the Elves are more or less ready to start going now, while others want to make sure that they're not leaving behind an uninhabitable hellscape for the other people. Logical sentiments on both sides.

I'm not as fond of the fact that she always seems to be squinting, but maybe that's just the face I picked. Hard to be sure.All of these are, of course, little touches, but they're little touches that add to the flavor and environment of the game in a useful way. I've made the comparison between the game and Call of Cthulhu before as a love letter to the works of a specific author, and that sentiment continues to come through strongly. It's a work of love for a specific setting rather than a version of the setting with the serial numbers filed off, and so it feels appropriate for the setting. That's hard to do.

There is, however, one area where this fidelity to the source kind of takes a downturn: maps. I remember when my mother got me a boxed set of the Lord of the Rings novels, and there were maps drawn in each book to give a sense of where all of these events were taking place. It appears - and I'm speculating here - that the designers decided to have the game zone maps be drawn in a roughly similar style, thus replicating the feel even if it didn't replicate the exact details therein.

The problem is that those maps were designed and labeled to be individual works of art, and the same seems to be true for the in-game maps here, which means that the lack of pointers about where I'm supposed to be going is pretty notable. It's often hard to open up the map and get pointers toward the right region, and while I realize that this is something covered in the quest text, it's one of those quality-of-life features that most games have adopted by this point. The fact that you can pay to just travel to certain objectives instantly doesn't exactly convince me that this is motivated purely by aesthetics, either.

We're heading into the final week of this adventure, and I still feel that I've barely scratched the surface of the game, but for a game this big that's run for this long, that's always going to be a concern. One thing I will note, however, is that I do have the option to queue up for a dungeon, and that seems like the sort of experience that might be very edifying to see what the game's dungeons are like. Then again, that may involve a great deal of waiting around for a queue that's never going to pop, so I turn the question over to you readers. You know better than I do what to expect from this, after all.

CMA: Should I queue up for a dungeon?

  • Yes, totally, but you might need to wait for a bit (73%, 134 Votes)
  • Nah, it's not going to be a formative experience (27%, 50 Votes)

Total Voters: 184

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As usual, the poll expires at noon on Friday, so get your votes in early. Until then, you can feel free to leave comments below or mail them along to eliot@massivelyop.com, as we've done every week. Next time around is our last week, followed by the usual post-mortem and the poll for our next destination, so be sure to stick around.

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. At least, his fate until he boards the ships and heads to the west, there's not much you can decide there. That's just a thing that's going to happen, you understand.
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