When LOTRO Gets It Right
As I previously mentioned, Dunland is far from the most enthralling region in LOTRO. Aesthetically speaking the zone is quite varied but that is not where the problem lies. The trials and tribulations of the various Dunlending tribes does not make for the most engaging narrative. So in the last few days I’ve been doggedly playing through the Epic Story and a selection of regional quests, so I can simply move my High Elf Guardian forward. However, I subsequently arrived at Nan Curunír and remembered that that I was playing through the third expansion for LOTRO; The Rise of Isengard. And things began to change for the better. Because the game content at this point includes some innovative story lines within an iconic setting and is a clear example of when this MMO gets things right.
There are limitations as to what a player can do in an MMO, via their avatar. Ultimately it comes down to either combat, interaction through “clicking”, or dialogue trees. Therefore it is incumbent upon a game developer to strive to present these options with a degree of creativity and novelty. Turbine (now Standing Stone Games) managed to achieve this once the Epic Story entered Isengard. Betrayed by the Falcon Clan the player finds themselves a captive of Saruman and is sent to work within the pits below the “ring of stone”. Initially saddled with an overseer who dogs your footsteps, the player is forced to labour in the forges, clean up in the kitchens and then feed the prisoners. There is then further toil on the surface, where “good behaviour” earns you a trustee’s independence.
This is a major shift in the players perspective, and although many of the quests are arbitrary “fetch and carry” related tasks, they work well within the ongoing narrative. There is also an interesting session play, where you see former events from the perspective of Acca, The Steward of Isengard. This shows Gandalf detainment by Saruman and his relationship with Gríma Wormtongue. Overall, the entire storyline set within Isengard is a highlight of this otherwise average expansion. I have always been interested in Saruman’s fall from grace and have sought out additional references to it in the various books published after Tolkien’s death. What were his reasons for turning from his “mission”? Exactly how far did he go in implementing the ring lore he had learned? These are all intriguing questions. Therefore, having this embellishment within LOTRO is a real bonus from my perspective.
LOTRO is a twelve-year-old MMO that was designed and created around the technology and prevailing trends of the time. It has been revamped and retooled several times over the years and now exists as a curious online Chimera. Driven by a much loved and lore rich IP, the game is often arbitrary in its mechanics but every now and then, there are flashes of inspiration that do much to redress the balance. Being a prisoner of Isengard is one such example and I must admit that revisiting this part of the game has done much to improve its standing with me. When LOTRO gets it right it can be more than just another MMORPG. The question remains can Standing Stone Games continue to innovate in this fashion. Will there be future interactive visits to iconic locations and session play that allow us to access classic instances in the history of Middle-earth. I do hope so.