It has come to my attention that there are more MMO nomads than normal this summer who are casting about for a new game world to call “home.” With so many shinier and newer alternatives out there, it might be a tough case to make that Lord of the Rings Online should be that pick for you. But you know what? I totally think it should be.
I’d start by saying that LOTRO’s greatest strength isn’t even its famous IP; it’s the fact that the IP lent itself to the creation of a genuine game world. Lots of MMOs have jigsaw puzzle zones and stories that are mish-mashed together into a weird themepark, but LOTRO’s setting feels cohesive, continuous, and comprehensive.
It’s hard to put into words, but when you step into this game, you really feel like it’s more of an expansive world than in many other MMORPGs. The wilds are wild, the civilizations have their own distinct look, and everything simply fits together. There are ruins and signs of past ages that give Middle-earth a “lived-in” feel, which is further assisted by adhering to the low-magic setting. When you come to this game, you’re not getting places that are one-upping themselves with visual lightshows and sparkly magical effects. You’re getting places that feel like they could’ve possibly existed in a parallel world.
Clearly, LOTRO draws heavily from Tolkien’s works, and in fact has long since billed itself as the “game of the books” (in contrast to the movies). There are many Lord of the Rings video games, but none so dedicated to teasing out and replicating every detail, place, character, setting, and idea from the novels as this MMO. If it’s in the books, you can be guaranteed of finding it where it should be in this game.
Obviously, Tolkien fans are going to find this aspect a lot more appealing than those indifferent to Lord of the Rings, but I’d argue that even for the Middle-earth agnostic, there’s still an appeal here. LOTRO has made many fans of this franchise because of how well it helps players understand the tone, themes, and focus of the books.
Gameplay systems-wise, I’ve always found LOTRO to be very accessible if you’re coming from most other MMOs. It’s a World of Warcraft clone of a sort — certainly in the questing model and tab-target combat — but LOTRO’s always done things with its own unique flair. You won’t be lost and flailing around to understand how this game works if you’re an MMO vet. “Comfortability” isn’t a massive selling point, but it is nice to know that you can jump in and get going right away without worry that you’ll need extensive instruction.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t hold up the LOTRO community as an amazing part of this title. Year after year, I’ve been so impressed by the enthusiasm, kindness, and generosity of LOTRO players. This is an MMO where people actually (gasp) love their game and are welcoming to those who come into their orbit. Sure, there are the usual bad apples scattered about, but on the whole, LOTRO gets high marks for its community.
There’s a whole lot more I could say about why this is a game worth playing even today. The epic storyline is well-written and creative, there is tons and tons of content to experience, the festivals are some of the best I’ve seen in MMOs, the music is sublime, the cosmetic and housing systems a lot of fun to play with, and the landscape still visually breathtaking.
But I’ll end by saying this: There’s a renewed sense of hope about this game that’s been absent the past few years. LOTRO’s history has seen a lot of ups and downs (especially in 2020), but there are a lot of reasons to be very optimistic about this MMO in 2021. There’s a new publisher that’s investing into the title, a new producer who’s doing a whole lot to further communication and vision, some major issues being addressed, an expansion on the way, and years of stories ahead.
It’s a great time to be a LOTRO player, whether new or old, and I invite you to join us in this collective online journey.