There are, to be fair, a lot of games that I play without liking too much. That’s actually not too unusual, even. But there are also a lot of games I play that I am no longer playing but still have something I point to and say, “Yes, this right here, this makes it worth it.” The Secret World‘s ability building and setting are juxtaposed against awkward missions and lackluster combat. The Elder Scrolls Online has a mixture of open and linear elements and a greatly improved combat engine. Star Trek Online has plenty of open stuff in the endgame that almost justifies its incredibly complex opening moments. You get the idea.
But when I look at LOTRO, I see a game that more or less perfectly does what it wants to be doing with only a handful of exceptions. It just doesn’t ever make a connection with me whatsoever.
On the most basic level, if you were going to pick out a game for fidelity to its setting, it’s hard to pick a better option than LOTRO. The game isn’t a fantasy game or even just a fantasy game in Middle-Earth, it’s a game that’s running in steady parallel to the actual setting and plot of the books, fleshing things out and establishing its own identity without ever violating that core of its history. It feels like a natural companion to the novels at the same time that it remains its own entity.
And it’s filled with charming touches. I didn’t get a chance to really explore the game’s housing or music-making systems, but the music-making in particular seems entirely in keeping with the spirit of the books while also allowing for a huge amount of player creativity. I’ve heard lovely stories and have no cause to doubt any of them. This stuff is all pretty much pure gold.
Minor quibbles aside, the game has solid and responsive combat that fits neatly inside of the tab-target mold and it has plenty of visual character. There’s a lot of storytelling that is, again, very true to the fiction. It never misses the marks it’s aiming for, even if it occasionally just wings them. I can’t point to any part of the game and say, “Yeah, it does this badly.”
Which is a conclusion I’ve had since the first moments of playing the game, but it’s also a conclusion that’s left me staring and scratching my head all the way along. If it does all of this stuff so well (and it does), why don’t I like it more? And part of me can’t wonder if it’s partly because the game has so few broken edges.
I have no problem saying that I dislike a game when it does several things wrong, regardless of popularity. But the problem with LOTRO is that I don’t dislike it. It’s not bad. There was never a single point during this CMA outing when I had the urge to throw the whole thing in the trash for being frustrating and unenjoyable, something that I have wanted to do in the past. (When I had Ryzom on deck ages ago, for example.) That wasn’t a problem.
No, the problem was just that… I never felt hooked. I was never eager to get back. There was nothing pushing me forward, nothing connecting me to the game. I kept finding myself thinking, “Oh, this is really good for people who like this game,” and then logging off and having zero desire to get back into the game. I don’t dislike it; I just don’t care.
Is that me? Yes, almost definitely. Almost completely. Nothing is wrong with the game’s mechanics; there’s no space to critique what it’s trying to be or how well it pulls it off because it does all of that quite well. The problem entirely comes down to the fact that, well, I just don’t like the game very much.
Of course, that also makes me sad. It keeps leaving me wondering if there’s something I’m missing along the way, some element that would tie everything together and light my world on fire, like I’m not playing it correctly. Maybe if I push just a little further, or maybe if I picked another class, or maybe if I did all sorts of other things. I find myself not wanting to admit that I just don’t like the game very much.
Because, again, the game isn’t bad. It doesn’t fail at anything it tries to do; it succeeds across the board. This is a good game, arguably even a great one. It has tons of roleplaying features, astonishing fidelity to its source material, solid graphics despite its age, a pretty nice and open business model, fun content, and so forth. If you think “I want a romp through Middle-Earth,” you can hardly do better. It delivers beautifully.
But it just doesn’t connect for me, personally. And that’s normal; we all have had experiences with works that don’t quite connect with our personal preferences. Something can be great without ever tripping the right levels inside of your mind to really connect with you.
So in review, what is there to be said? LOTRO is a great game, a spectacular game, a game that knows exactly what it’s trying to be and works hard to deliver exactly that. There are minor things to quibble about here and there, but it’s very clearly one of the best examples of its type. I’m glad I played it, and I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in it to do so as well; it has a positive reputation and it’s earned it.
For my time, though, it’s a perfectly good game that I don’t really care about one way or the other. I had more fun with the broken edges in Tamriel; I might not care about either setting, but that one felt more unique to me. Your mileage will vary.
Obviously, the next outing is now upon us, but this time we’re breaking slightly with tradition. My first two installments have been reader-selected, but for various reasons (which will become clear in short order) we’re going for a couple of months of pre-selected games. Bear with us because we’ve got reasons.
The next destination? WildStar.
Without going too much into what’s going to be the column for next week (I have to tease something, after all), the short version is that this is a game that deserves some coverage and a look into it, and we’re more than a little worried here that we may be entering something of a twilight period. When your game starts being bundled under a generic header rather than tracked individually, you are not doing well. And as someone who did play the game back at launch, I think it’s well worth seeing how things have improved – and how they’ve stayed the same.
Feedback, of course, is welcome down in the comments or via mail to email@example.com. Next time around, we’ll still be doing our usual introductory column, even though the next destination is a known thing. Hang tight, and we’ll be moving right along in short order.