LOTRO: The State of the Game
I am fast approaching my ten-year anniversary of playing the MMORPG The Lord of the Rings Online. So, I thought I write a few thoughts about how I find the current state of the game. I returned to LOTRO this August and finally decided to tackle all the outstanding content that I had allowed to build up. Because I initially had issues with the Mordor expansion when it first was released, I had started to level up elsewhere in the game. Thus, when I resumed playing I was two levels or so above the designated rank of most quests. The final region of Mordor, Talath Úrui, I completed last night at level 118. I have always preferred to play this way and like to ensure that I am adequately equipped for a zone. If you are underpowered combat becomes a chore. I am currently finishing off the final stages of Update 22: Legacy of the Necromancer, having worked my way through Northern Mirkwood, Lake-town, Dale on to Erebor. I always attempt content in a linear fashion, so I can stay conversant with the various storylines. By the time I finish the Erebor quests and start the new content in Update 23: Where Dragons Dwell, I shall probably be at the new level cap of 125.
The Story. A year on after the release of Mordor and LOTRO has begun to forge ahead into quasi non-canonical territory, effectively fictionalising the events that are referenced in the appendix of The Lord of the Rings. There have been times in the past when I have found the underlying narrative of LOTRO too convoluted and frankly uninteresting. I remember little of Enedwaith and Dunland and felt that the stories based around the inter-tribal Dunlending feuds were a distraction. Beyond their function of giving further insight into the treason of Isengard they were not the most gripping of tales. I also lost track of many of the Thanes of Rohan and their respective stories during the Riders of Rohan expansion. Yet broadly, the Epic Story that runs through the entire game has been gripping and from time to time, memorable characters do stand out.
I felt that the Mordor storyline was very good, offering a plausible depiction of a ruined but not necessarily beaten realm. The notion of former acolytes of Sauron vying for dominance in a power vacuum was explored well. I also felt the plight of the Stout-axes was an interesting tale. Recent updates have also seen a more honed style of narrative, where wider issues are seen through the experience of a handful of relevant characters. The refugee quests in Dale was well handled and struck a contemporary chord. Although I usually tend to be ambivalent towards Elven focused narratives, I enjoyed the cleansing of Mirkwood and the way Thranduil’s story tied into the High Elf starter storyline. From what I’ve seen so far SSG are doing well with their post downfall of Sauron adaptations. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next in Ered Mithrin.
Gear, statistics and combat. I’ve recently started using the Raven as my regular Lore-master pet. I’m currently using the Red Line Trait Build with a Legendary Weapon tweaked towards optimal fire-based damage, so using a combat pet that enhances this is common sense. At present I have mainly Teal and Purple armour purchased via the High Elf Enchanter along with all Teal Jewellery. Hence PVE outside of Ered Mithrin is not proving problematic. I have also adjusted my skill rotation, as Ring of Fire was nerfed in the latest update and now has become invaluable. I find there’s a fine line in any MMO between challenging combat and fights simply taking too long. At present I feel the balance is just right in LOTRO. I’m not a serious number cruncher when it comes to my characters statistics. I noticed that my moral levels have dropped since the last patch, but other adjustments to enemy stats mean that combat is not quite so grindy.
Abandoned systems and obsolete content. I briefly wanted to mention one of the inevitable consequences of a decade old MMO. LOTRO has several game systems that have either fallen by the wayside, or that remain as “work in progress”. I recently revisited Epic Battles and feel that the main flaw they have is the intial lack of agency you have as a player, on what is going on around you. You need to put a lot of points into the various “promotions” before you actually start impacting upon the flow of battle. Too me that’s simply bad design. I don’t expect to slog away for a month before something finally becomes compelling. It needs to be so right from the start. Then there are skirmishes, which are thoroughly entertaining and a great way to level outside of traditional quests. Sadly, we haven’t seen any new skirmishes in the game since 2010 or so. Hobbies and housing are other aspects of the game that have much potential but remain underdeveloped.
Due to LOTRO’s ever growing level cap, there are several gear related systems at various points in the game that are now obsolete. If you create a new alt, many of these systems can now be bypassed with alternative gear provided elsewhere. The Hytbold quest line was an involving diversion upon its initial release but it is highly unlikely that you’d ever revisited it with another character. More recently, the Allegiance system was introduced to the game. In the space of two updates it has become obsolete. I am currently level 22 with The Kingdom of Gondor, but as my primary character in now 118, none of the gear it can offer is of any use. I bought three items recently which had lower stats to what I was using, so I simply destroyed the items for Motes of Enchantment. LOTRO more than other MMOs that I play seems to have an excess of game systems that have to be experienced on level or else they end up redundant (except to the completionist player).
Lore, ambience and music. After ten years Standing Stone Games realisation of Middle-earth still captures the essential essence of Tolkien’s work. The game engine is some what old now and the graphic are very much of the era that created the game, but the world reflects the source text and the stories regularly tap into the lore in both obvious and subtle ways. I often find myself intrigued by a minor aside in the narrative or a reference to a character or place. When I subsequently research these on the internet or via my various Tolkien reference books, I always find that the writers have drawn upon genuine lore. Bar practical changes, adaptations and embellishments that are designed to facilitate the MMO genre, I have never found the stories in LOTRO objectional or taking excessive liberties with accepted canon.
Finally, I would like to reference the soundtrack of LOTRO which has grown prodigiously over the years. It remains an integral facet of the games appeal, and a means of giving an older MMO with minimal dialogue, the emotional impetus the narrative needs. There are some wonderful new (relatively speaking) themes that play around Lake-town, Dale and Erebor that suit the environment perfectly. The game also has several motifs associated with the different races, although I must say those pertaining to Dwarves are by far the best. They simply nail the cultural and philosophical idiom of the race. I know SSG have made music from the game available, but I feel they should release more. Hopefully that is something they can address in the future.
LOTRO remains for me my go to MMO and despite its flaws, it still offers me an interesting diversion in my leisure time and a rich narrative experience based upon one of my favourite intellectual properties. As long as it continues to operate within these parameters, I shall continue to support the game. I do not think I am alone in this philosophy and believe that many players have made their peace with the games foibles and embraced it for what is actually is and the needs it fulfils. Certainly, the game have provided me with a great deal of enjoyment and entertainment over the last decade and has been great value for money. Therefore, I wholeheartedly hope that it continues to grow and move the story forward in the years to come.