Thursday, May 10, 2007

Lord of the Rings Online

Made some changes to the template I've been using to go along with some other changes: namely my switch from the World of Warcraft to the Lord of the Rings Online. Don't get me wrong, WoW is a great game! I had a lot of fun in the World of Warcraft and if anyone is starting out with MMORPGs, I'd recommend it as a great introduction and a really fun hobby. The trouble I had with WoW is that I've pretty much done all I care to do in the game.

I've played WoW for about two years. I started my first character, a tauren warrior, on a PvP server and had some good times. I made it through the 1 - 60 content and joined up with a guild to do raiding and "end game." Then I rolled an Alliance character and did the same thing: got to 60, did a bunch of PvP and did the raiding thing into Molten Core and Black Wing Lair. Lots of fun. Then the expansion hits: The Burning Crusade. Had lots of fun there, back on my original warrior. Now he's 70, has a flying mount and is facing another "end game." And this time, I'm just not interested. Grinding rep to get a key for a slightly different version of an instance I've already been to does not appeal to me, nor does the constant wipe-fest for mediocre rewards that is the current end game. I had a lot of fun with WoW, but rather than deal with the frustrations of raiding and the struggle to keep up with the rest of my guild, I decided to end on a high note.

I have a friend where I work who was a closed beta tester for The Lord of the Rings Online. Once the restrictions were lifted, he gave me the low-down on the game. As a big Lord of the Rings fan (both the books and the movies), I decided I had to check it out. I preordered so I could get into the open beta. I've been playing ever since. The world Turbine built is an excellent rendering of Tolkien's Middle Earth complete with all the races and the places I've read about in the books. Like any MMORPG I've played to-date, it has a number of classes to choose from and you can choose a race (hobbit, dwarf, elf, human). Gameplay is very similar to WoW, so if you're a WoW player, you'll pick it up in no time.

One of the things I truely enjoy is the world itself. I can visit the Old Forest. I've been to Bag End. I've been to Rivendell. I've explored ruins, delved into caves and found places only the brave would go. In short: I am exploring stuff I haven't seen a million times and I'm loving it! Even places that I've been to a couple times can take my breath away with the game's graphics. The world also has a night/day cycle which changes the way things look and in-game sunrises and sunsets are very nicely done. The stars come out at night and actually move across the sky as do the clouds. If you're lucky, you can also see a rainbow in Hobbiton!

Other things that impressed me about the game are the subtle changes in gameplay that Turbine has introduced. Mob xp is small. Very small. Most of the xp you gain as a character will be from quests. The emphasis is on questing and thereby on the stories involved in the world. No more grinding boars to get to max level. You need to quest. Some of the more unique quests are in Hobbiton. Delivering mail, eggs and pies got my hobbit hunter from level 8 to 10. They are basically "FedEx" type quests with some additional pressures: you need to avoid certain npcs and you are on a timer. Delivering mail involves talking to the postmaster in a town. He will give you a sack of mail and tell you the town you need to deliver it to. Then you're off! As the timer counts down, you need to navigate to the next town's postmaster to give him the mail. You cannot fight while you're carrying the mail. You cannot swim or you'll drop the pouch and fail. You also need to steer clear of Nosey Hobbits! If a Nosey Hobbit spots you, you fail the quest. The result is players scurrying across roads, cutting through fields, leaping fences and diving behind buildings to get their mail to the postmaster before the timer expires. By the end of the questline, you'll also know the Shire like the back of your hand.

Other notes:
- The crafting system could use some tweaking, but it's fairly well done. You get a set of professions (ex: metalsmith, prospector, tailor) which can be used to support your class.
- Like in WoW, Auction Houses are available for player-to-player trades.
- There are no official roleplay servers (for the US, anyway). People are expected, however, to be able to roleplay on any server they choose. The game lends itself quite easily to roleplay given the depth and detail of the world.
- You can smoke pipeweed!
- Players gain skills in musical instruments and can create music. Some people use the instruments as little more than noisey party favors but other people are quite talented musically and can have little in-game concerts.

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