For those of you who are even less aware of Middle-Earth as a setting than I, the gist of things is that the time of the Elves is nearly done, and they are soon to journey to the West. This is kind of a natural side-effect of the whole to-do about the eponymous Rings, where the Elves can’t stick around without them; I’m not entirely clear on the details, there, but the short version is that this is the close of a cycle for the entirety of the race.
So most of your early stuff is based around the fact that the Elves are not, in fact, going out to party and enjoy themselves while Sauron is on the march. Instead, it’s all about preparing for the most depressing road trip of all time.
Before I go any further, I want to give thanks to Massively Overpowered reader J. (character name obscured for privacy purposes) for sending me some low-level supplies to get started, which I do appreciate! It’s a nice shot in the arm in terms of power and was thoughtful, which makes me wonder if perhaps I should have made my server public.
Then again, if you know much about me, it’s not exactly a grand mystery where I’d go. [Hint: “Final Fantasy Storyboard Guy!” -Eds]
In terms of game lore, the story at this point centers almost entirely around the fact that the Elves are preparing for the journey to the West, leaving everything behind, and thus undertaking everything with a certain air of sadness. It makes sense, too, when you think about what it all means. Either the Free Peoples will defeat Sauron, at which point the Elves will leave, or Sauron will win, at which point the Elves will still leave because many (if not all) will have been neatly bisected by Orcs. The question isn’t whether or not it’s all ending; the question is just how.
This also plays nicely into the element of the game’s storytelling that I quite like. The game is taking place at the same time as the novels, running in parallel. I don’t think it’s quite accurate to say that you’re not the hero, exactly, but you’re not the Ringbearer or even more than a mildly affected participant in that story. It’s something that I like, the sense of big powers moving in parallel, with players getting a big part to play even while another narrative unfolds.
Of course, it also leads to a minor problem with the game’s structure that isn’t easy to fix. The most iconic parts of Lord of the Rings do not actually involve taking the most direct route to Mordor and in fact involve more than a few detours, but players expect to see those things in there. So the result is that you feel a little bit like a tagalong at parts, covering grounds just a few minutes behind everyone else.
At other times, you’re the hero of an important story that was just very understandably off-frame for all of the novels. I know which version I prefer.
Neither one is in full force this early in the game, though, but that also means that the story tends to lack much in the way of weight. There’s a vague sense that big things are happening off in the distance, but none of it comes through in most of the actual telling, replaced with an endless parade of being introduced to one character or another and then getting shuffled off to the next point of interest. I’m sure there’s good reason for it, but it’s tragically rather boring at this stage, without even the minor personal engagement that you get from having more dynamically presented quests.
This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the gameplay were holding up its end of the bargain, of course; I just finished off a series of installments about a game with weaker storytelling but strong gameplay. But alas, current lowbie Warden gameplay feels overtly like playing a version of Solitaire with only one suit. It’s clear where I will be going and how the current mechanics will expand, but not enough to make the right now fascinating.
That’s one of the issues I notice, consistently. It’s not that the game is bad, nor is it that the game is failing to do what it’s trying to do; rather, it’s that the game is doing something that other titles have built upon in the subsequent years. I suspect (although I’m not certain) that LOTRO has not had a starter experience redesign in quite some time, and that means that it shows its age pretty badly. [By our count, the last big newbie zone overhaul was in 2010, with a few lower-mid zones in 2014. -Eds]
It’s also as linear as any of the worse stretches of World of Warcraft, which is – again – a necessary evil while also being something of a turn-off. Obviously, you shouldn’t be allowed to just wander off into the distance and stop following along behind the Fellowship, as the game then turns from being LOTRO into Ceilarene and Gorim Son of Godin go to White Castle, but it also means that you don’t have much sense that you can do other things.
Leveling did allow me to unlock character builds, although I seem to recall that the game originally had a system of customization that was much more built around unlocking traits via deeds instead of stock-standard talent trees. Said old system at least sounded neat; it was a cool idea that you weren’t more durable because of arbitrary stuff, you were more durable because you had endured the attacks of many a wolf. Then again, this system is more straightforward, and I quite like talent trees. Perhaps I’m remembering incorrectly anyhow.
But that’s where I am, after the second week in the game. I’ve heard lots of good stuff about the game over the years, but I have yet to see most of it outside of an (obviously) helpful community. I’m sure some of the blame there falls squarely on me and a couple of very busy weeks, but all I can do is calls ’em like I sees ’em. And give you enough information to filter that appropriately, at that.
Of course, since we don’t really have a choice of routes right now, this week’s poll once again goes in a different direction – but a relevant one, I think.
CMA: Should I reveal my server?
- Yes, and set up some form of group play session. (40%, 94 Votes)
- Yes, for posterity's sake. (10%, 23 Votes)
- No, because you want to experience the game undiluted. (42%, 99 Votes)
- No, because I can guess in the event that I care. (8%, 18 Votes)
Total Voters: 234
As always, the poll closes on Friday at noon; next week I will hopefully have a bit more time and can thus regale you with further stories of Middle-Earth. Feedback is more than welcome until then down in the comments or via mail to email@example.com.