Choose My Adventure: LOTRO in hindsight, WildStar ahead

    
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Choose My Adventure: LOTRO in hindsight, WildStar ahead
Writing about Lord of the Rings Online is an odd experience for me because the reality is pretty simple: I don’t like the game very much. But it’s not really the fault of the game itself.

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.”

That fish was this big.

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.

I guess we're not friends any more.

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.

This is... not a great thing, maybe.

Next outing!

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 eliot@massivelyop.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.

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. Fear not, you’ll be able to pick the games again soon enough. It’s a temporary change, as are all things.

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Tazuras

For me LOTRO didn’t really pick up until I got to the lone lands, or maybe Trestlebridge in North of Bree Fields because of fighting off the advances of the orcs there. Everything before that felt too inconsequential to the plot and like the stakes weren’t particularly high.

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Mr_Planthead

I’m still trying to find what to play when not just randomly running around in Black Desert, you got me back into trying LOTRO this week so will see how long it lasts. If you make it to level 40 in Wildstar maybe you can tell me what zone I’m supposed to go to next because I can’t find it :/

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Dividion

I think one of the problems here is that you were in “The Lord of The Rings”, but without a “Fellowship”. Plus, when you know you’ll only experience something for a short while, it can definitely create some distance emotionally since there is no long term investment. There’s so much content in LotRO (especially outside of the story in the books) that you can only get a taste in a CMA month.
I think the most emotionally I’ve been invested in LotRO comes down to two things:
First, defeating the Balrog in the Rift with my Kinship (and leading several weekly Rift raids to a successful conclusion). (Soloing Barz was pretty enjoyable too… I think that was around level 90)
Second, the betrayal of the Rangers by one of the clans on the way down to Isengard. That really ticked me off. :)

But as for the game doing everything perfectly… There are plenty of little things here and there (an over-abundance of unnecessary grinds comes to mind), but it’s definitely an epic experience. When the game was still relatively young I used to think about how much content a new player would get to experience once they got to the point of the destruction of the ring. It’s an incredible amount, and if you can experience with other people it’s something that’ll stay with you for a very, very long time.

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Melissa McDonald

“It just doesn’t ever make a connection with me whatsoever.”

“Infidel defilers. They shall all drown in lakes of blood. Now we will show them why they fear the dark.” – Thulsa Doom

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Hirku

I really enjoyed this series, it was fun reading about your month in LotRO at the same time I was playing through my first month. We reached different conclusions but I can understand your feeling completely as there have been many games where I can see the quality and just not care (pretty much Blizzard’s entire catalog, for example).

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Gee You Why

“it’s a perfectly good game that I don’t really care about one way or the other”

This is Wildstar for me. It looks good and plays great but I just can’t get my interest level up to play it.

cambruin
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cambruin

The problem with the IP is that it’s stale. You know what will happen, how it’ll happen and why it’s happening. There’s no ‘surprises’ left, every nook and cranny of the IP mapped, every aspect covered.

When looking at other IPs, they’re evolving. You may not like Azeroth, but Blizzard keeps adding to it, keeps expanding the lore and even rewriting parts of it. Same thing for Tamriel. Zenimax/Bethesda have a massive amount of lore built up over the past decades and still it’s nowhere near done. Then there’s Star Wars, Hyboria, Star Trek, … very old IPs that still draw crowds. Movies are still being shot, games still being developed.
And what about the IPs that have yet to be turned into MMOs; Game of Thrones for example?

You’re just a spectator to a show and eventhough the game delivers the show brilliantly, it’s still a show. You have no influence over it’s course whatsoever. The One Ring will be thrown into Mount Doom, Sauron will be defeated, Aragorn will be crowned king and the lands beyond? Rhûn, Harad, ..? Unless Saul Zaentz and Middle Earth Enterprises says go, we’ll never know.
A wealth of information, an enormous foundation to build upon.. and yet it hasn’t evolved for over 40 years now.

Oh well.

Upaya
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Upaya

“Surprises” are overrated from a world-building perspective. They’re generally an example of devices where the vast majority of the punchy “iceberg” is actually above water with the impart reliant upon a singular moment of “reveal” which cannot be replicated and most often lacks much of a basis for deeper, further analysis and meaning.

A great deal is the Modernist tradition which Tolkien was a part of, which sought to (simplistically speaking) approach world-building as an important and unifying exercise. The depth behind a world like Tolkien’s is found in the details and where the differences are reconciled into whole persons and whole ideas. LotRO is a story, in one vein, of a grand unification against evil. It is based on the ideal that those who are “free” are more alike than different (which is a great deal of the journey… the gathering of allies to common cause.

The “core” of Aragorn’s person is essentially unchanged from that of the persona we first meet him in, as a duty-bound ranger. However, the depths come from what is under and revealed not as a “turn” or a “difference” but in findings of common ground and sameness.

There is no need for Middle Earth to “evolve”, and such would be immensely detrimental to the integrity of the work itself, which is one of the few (and most important) actually academic exercise of these methods and ideas. And as it stands, LotRO is quite an “evolution” of Middle-Earth from the written materials. This can be seen in how they fashioned a great deal of the RoI expansion from what amounted to something like two lines written in an appendix about the Dunlanders siding with evil.

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Noel

I don’t think that’s the problem. I know what will happen in most games: nominally speaking – we win. Until the next expansion or update.

A lot of LOTRO’s magic is bottled up in its literary pedigree. I got immense enjoyment in reading beautiful prose. And that sort of earthly air shows up in the world building – unhurried, uncomplicated, mundane. It’s an odd sort of taste when most of its contemporaries are grooming players to be godkilling titans.

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Alex Willis

It's not you, it's me.

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odin valhalla

Fair enough. LOTRO is so tied into tolkiens world its really the main hook. To Turbines credit they did a dam good job of capturing the spirit of the world and tone overall for many years. I always tried to imagine people playing lotro and not knowing the books or not seeing the movies. To see Bombaldi, the barrow downs, Eregion, even minas tirith. To them its just another quest hub and zone in an MMO.

To tolkien fans its wow moment after wow moment. Nice write up, I get it Im sure a lot of lotro fans will.

Upaya
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Upaya

Not even. I love fantasy but I was never, ever, a real LotR person before I played the MMORPG. I saw the films but never finished all the books and was generally just meh neutral about it. LotRO is such a good game that it was a real way into the whole world of Middle Earth for me.

And regardless of the IP, LotRO is the only MMORPG that has ever deeply moved me to tears.

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Fisty

Really? Can you point out the arc you cried at?

Upaya
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Upaya

The Battle of Minas Tirith had a few. That update should have been named “Everyone you have come to know and love dies”.

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Будусов Виктор

Some Rohan quest arcs are very tragic and touching too.

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odin valhalla

LOTRO is a good game, to a point. Certainly its longevity speaks volumes to its quality. However I can also imagine someone not reading the books not seeing the movies and playing lotro and becoming disenfranchised by the monetization. Similarly, thats how it became sour for me, when I saw mannequins adverting store cosmetics in Eregion (of all places) it broke immersion. There were MANY spots along the way Turbine made mistakes that rendered portions of the game hard to take.

All that said at its core LOTRO is a great MMORPG, maybe the best ever produced. The lore is second to none, very good story lines, and very deep solo and group game play. I mean around mirkwood and before the raiding community flourished. That content is still there albeit your rewards for completing it are nothing like they used to be.

10 years this game has been solid, even though I dont and wont play it ever again I hope the people still playing it are having a blast.