My first week in LotRO.

As mentioned a while back I grabbed a load of cash and spend it on Lord of the Rings Online – Collectors Edition. While this was done at a moment of weakness it turned out I had plenty of opportunity to change my decision. As I found out a slight error in my shipping address caused almost a week of delays, and a lot of email correspondence with the store, before I was finally owner of the game.

As it happens bol.com apparently has a rule about sending games (or possibly expensive games?) out of the country. The strange thing about it was that it seems they are not fully aware of this themselves. So when my first order has been returned to them, due to the addressing error, I asked them what to do and was told to reorder. Okay no worries I did – only to have my order cancelled with the formerly mentioned reasoning. That seemed a bit odd to me since my order had already been shipped once. So I wrote a message to them about this and I was then told they couldn’t reactivate the order and I should order again (seemed like an cookie-cutter answer since it was pretty much what I had gotten after my first failed delivery). But in any event I ordered again and the package was sent.

I checked the order page all day and then pretty late in the evening, before the status had changed to ‘sent’ (or ‘Verzonden’ as they say it in Holland) I pressed the cancel button by mistake, “NOOOOOOOOO!” I thought and almost gave up. But as luck would have it I apparently pressed the button too late. And even tho I got a mail that they would do everything to stop the order the status was changed to sent next morning. A word of caution btw. bol.com does not subscribe to the notion of having confirmation dialogs for something like a cancel button. So if you press the button you get no second chances (except “reorder because they cannot reactive the order” I suspect).

But finally last tuesday the game arrived. The box was a bit of a letdown. It had been slightly damaged in the shipping. But whatever. It’s not like I am gonna put it on a shelf and look on it anyway. The included map is a bit of a letdown too. Vanguard shipped with a, not very nice, cloth map. Seems LotRO make due with a, somewhat boring, paper version. The game manual is pretty nicely bound as a hardcover book tho. And sadly it seems I didn’t win a trip to Tubine or a Zune (not that I would want the latter) as there was no ring in my package. But the in-game collectors edition cloak is pretty nice. Haven’t entered the key for the extra cloak I got from bol.com yet. But the one screenshot I have found looks pretty nice too.

A couple of the extras of the collectors edition was not in the package. The leather armband I should get in a couple of weeks from Codemasters as it didn’t make it in time for package production. And the mini-guide I will only get as a PDF… And I wonder what is keeping it. I registered for those things last week. Hmmm…

But on to the game.

Having played a bit in the beta I pretty much knew what to expect from the start of the game. So I wasn’t exactly blown away by the initial game experience. The graphics looks pretty good and it runs well. I am not sure everyone agrees with me. But I personally think the graphics of DDO and LotRO is at least on par with anything else out there in the MMO-sphere. And it looks better that most other games I have played recently. I simply can’t see how people can claim games like Vanguard has nice graphics when Tubine is making engines like this.

As for the actual game mechanics there is nothing wildly new except maybe lack of things we have gotten used to. Some good, some will need to be added sooner or later.

Choosing a race and a class might pose a bit of a problem. I know it does for me. I am partial to elven characters with the possibility of playing as ‘man’. Hobbits and dwarves is just really my cup of tea. But in Middle-Earth the (hu)man race is a bit boring, while the other races all seem to have their strong characteristics. So i am mainly playing as an Elf.

That in turn limits my options on classes. Not that it matters too much as none of the classes really speak too much to me. It all fits pretty well with the Tolkien lore I suppose. There are no flamboyant magic – except for the Wizards who are, of course, higher beings and are not a playable class/race. Instead there is more subtle ones like the lore-master and minstrel. But even the minstrel is described in a very down to earth fashion. And the rest of the classes seems refreshingly “realistic” where swords are swords and attacks with them is just technique and not super-magic-combo-action. It also helps that you do not have hit-points – instead you have “moral”. It works much in the same way. But you never truly ‘die’. Instead you retreat as you are defeated. A nice workaround of established Middle-Earth lore where you die when you die.

Also the graphic style is more “realistic”. Armor and weapons are largely made in a fashion that fits with something that COULD maybe be true. Even tho I think sometimes my characters wear a little too much purple for my taste. I suppose I will be able to fix that with some dye once I move along in the game. And maybe some of the one hand weapons are a bit on the heavy side.

The game-play in itself is very much standard-MMO maybe with a bit extra emphasis placed on your personal story. This is one of those things I always hate. The current game time is before the books start. In the shire the party tree is being prepared and Strider is apparently spending his time in Bree tasking hordes of dwarf, elf, hobbit and men with the same tasks. It’s is a tricky problem to get over in an largely automated game world. But it just don’t feel right that in a MMO I am supposed to be the only real hero when I can clearly see 20 people standing around me speaking with the same guy and moving in the same directing afterwards.

The actual flow of the game is that you have one core story you play, I am at the prolog part so far. And then there are a number of side quests in the same region. So far it seems most of the story (epic) quests happen in instances that is pretty much the zone, you are already in, tailored to the given quest. I suppose that works pretty well. But I wouldn’t mind seeing some truly different and amazing places in instances. Since you pretty quickly become familiar with the zone you are in.

One of the ‘unique’ things in the game is a concept called deeds. I think I have seen something similar before, but can’t think of where. In any event the idea is you have a separate task/reward system outside of the quests. So for instance you can get a title by killing a number of wolves in an area. And if you kill even more you get a trait that can be applied to your character for some small benefits. The cool part is they are not visible in your deeds book until you triggering them. So for the wolves thing you would kill a wolf and you will be told you are working on this deed.

Other deeds are more subtle. For instance you get titles as you progress in levels without dying. So for instance at level 5 you will be told you now have a title for not dying for the first five levels. And so on at level 10 and 14 with more coming further ahead. Once you have died once with your character you can no longer gain any more of those. This can be extremely addictive if you have a bit too much time on your hands and is a hopeless perfectionist. In the first week I have redone and made new characters several times because I died. And I have loose the will to play a specific character once it’s died once. I suppose it is a hurdle I need to work past if I want to get further in the game. But oddly enough I have not been quite as bothered, as I usually am, about doing the same stuff over when I have started over.

Crafting is hardly worth mentioning. Most of it works pretty much like WoW where you have gathering and making professions. You can choose between a number of ‘vocations’ that is essentially three separate trade-skills strung together. Usually so you end up having to rely on someone else to make something out of the stuff you gather. Or the other way around. The only one that really seems interesting so far is, oddly, the farming profession. As I just read something about you being able to crossbreed strains and make new plants. From what I understand the number of outcomes are, however, preset. But it is something I am going to have to investigate.

In the end crafting is more or less pointless tho. Like other mainstream games the crafted items are not nearly as useful as looted ones or quest rewards. So you end up with being able to equip yourself with basic equipment until you can win something better. Only a couple of the professions seems to have any market value. Cooks make food that buffs you and reduce downtime. And scholars make other buff scrolls, potions and the ever popular dyes for the fashion conscious.

The UI of the game is also very much standard. It has what you would need. It’s nice enough and supports custom skins. It is not, however, very customizable. Windows and panels cannot be resized. And skins can only change the graphics, not the window sizes. That leaves us, who have a large display, with some small windows that does not show nearly as much information as we would like. One of the UI team members have said (over on LotRO Interface) that they are planning to add resizable windows at some point. And also that much later they want to make something like what WoW has. But they can’t just go do it because it is the same engine they are running DDO on.

Also, as usual, the UI is plagued by bad design. I seriously do not understand who designs these MMO UIs. But they must all have a degree in bad user interface. One of the worse things is the multitude of multi-tabbed windows. Common among them is a number of top level tabs in the top of the window. And then tabs in the bottom that change content inside of that tab. Trouble being there is no real visual clue what does what. And worse it seems a lot of people miss the ones in the bottom, leading to a lot of questions on the advice channel in-game.

My biggest concern with the game is the potential to run dry on content very quickly. Already now I see level-maxed characters running around and the game has been out a month! Personally after a week I have a couple of level 15 characters. And I have been wasting several days remaking some of them. While there are always the “hardcore” players around who just race through. It is a worrying thought that I may be through the game-story inside of a month with only the content updates to look forward to. One is coming in June but if you are already maxed in levels. How fun is it going to be if not all new content is made for top level characters?

So would I recommend the game to my friends? Maybe. I’d have to stress I can’t see it as a long term game. But for some short sighted fun it seems to do the job. The client is fairly stable and it runs well on the systems I have tried it on. And in general I have not experienced any glaring, deal breaking, faults in my first week.

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