It’s a sign that you’re a passionate fan of a franchise when you get so familiar with the source material that small details delight you just as much as the big picture stuff. In fact, I’ve long held that games live and die based on these tiny, easily overlooked touches that elevate a title to a higher tier of quality.Lord of the Rings Online for almost two decades, you become familiar with every nook and cranny of the world. So today’s article either won’t appeal to you at all or it might strike a chord, because I want to drill down to a level of detail that almost never gets talked about — but maybe should. By me. I’m going to talk about it.
Level up animation
A “ding” is always a momentous moment in any MMORPG leveling journey and is usually accompanied by a sound and animation. For my money, though, Lord of the Rings Online has one of the most elaborate and beautiful level-up animations in the genre. The grace and artistry of this animation is an example of how this MMO sets itself apart from more loud and brash contemporaries.
I don’t remember when the devs added this, but I know that LOTRO didn’t always have this particular animation. In any case, hitting a new level sends a spear of light up from your character that thickens and then becomes this elaborate swirly white tree — which I’ve always taken as a Gondor reference. The tree turns for a bit and then dissolves into a sort of pristine snowfall before fading away.
Being able to filter out quests for characters
LOTRO has a lot of quests. Like, a lot a lot. And on occasion, those quest notices can be a pesky and annoying thing. Maybe you don’t want to keep getting Hobnanigans invites or being notified that there’s a warband on the prowl. That’s where a nice little feature comes into play!
At the lower-right of your quest log are two buttons for every quest. One blocks that quest from your current character and the other blocks it from every character on your account. It’s a nice way to filter out those repeatables or any other quest that may trouble you. And don’t worry — you can totally go back and un-filter any of these quests if you accidentally block something you shouldn’t have.
The mapping animation
I’m going to point out one other frequent animation that charms me, which is the “mapping” one that happens when you’re using a milestone or return-to skill. To visually represent your character suddenly being able to hop hundreds of miles across the game world in a flash, the game makes you take out a map and a looking-glass to scan the parchment as runes float up above your head.
I mean, I have no idea what’s specifically happening here, but it does spark the imagination that your character is figuring out the best path back to somewhere and fading the game to black for this journey that you don’t need to see. In any case, it’s a neat little animation and I’ve always liked it.
How the popup text is so in character for this world
When we talk about story in LOTRO, we may speak of the epic questline, or environmental storytelling, or any number of things. But one little tool that I’ve seen SSG use that few if any other MMOs do is using pop-up text to convey story beats.
It’s not overly frequent, but sometimes you’ll get a short quest update via pop-up that makes me think of how Dungeons and Dragons Online uses its voice narrator to draw you more fully into the game world. There are other ways that LOTRO uses popups as well, such as telling us what your character might be thinking. One of my favorite is when you’re going through Northern Mirkwood and the popups deliver flashback quotes to The Hobbit when you happen upon one of the significant places from that novel.
The ambient noise layer
Sound is simultaneously so essential and yet undervalued for MMORPGs. We’re usually all about the visuals, aren’t we? And poor sound is over here being neglected and taken for granted. If we talk about it, it might be the game’s soundtrack or combat noises, but that’s about it.
There’s a lot of nuance to sound design, and one of the areas that I tend to fixate on is the ambient layer. In fact, I usually turn this to 100% and turn down everything else to 50% or lower. After all, when you’re out in nature, the noises of your surroundings is going to be more substantial than almost anything else. And LOTRO has a very inviting ambient soundtrack with lots of subtle touches that always draw me into the pastoral scenes or forest wilderness.
The limited voice overs
I’ll end with another note on sound design, which is the fact that while this MMO doesn’t have full voice-over — the cost and issue with localization would’ve been prohibitive — the studio did make an interesting compromise that I appreciate. Most quest givers usually deliver the first full line of audio, and most NPCs in the game world have a vocal prompt as well.
The more I think about this, the more I like how it works. One line of voice acting puts that voice in your head so that you can read the rest of the quest text in that same voice. It’s vastly better than no voice-over at all, and I like how an actor can convey a lot in the span of a single sentence.
So what are some of those tiny details from LOTRO that you dig?