Saturday, September 22, 2007

LotRO Fun?

The Ancient Gaming Noob and Potshot have had a couple on interesting posts about LotRO and Why isn’t LotRO More Fun? (Or Why is WoW fun?). Based on my past experiences of having everyone I know that came from WoW head back to WoW except me, it got me to thinking. Why am I staying? Why do I enjoy Turbine’s take on Middle-earth so much?

Chief among my reasons for sticking with LotRO is the fact that it is set in Middle-earth. I first read The Hobbit at age 14. I was blown away. I loved the story of the plucky little Hobbit that had adventures and basically went where only the Big Folk were supposed to go. Lord of the Rings also held my imagination for a long while. In the DnD groups with my friends, we were essentially recreating the adventures of Bilbo and company but in our own stories.

Another reason I’m still around coincides with the first: I get to play a Hobbit - not some stunted elf wanna-be “halfling” or gnome, but a Hobbit. Some folks have suggested that the Hobbits Turbine created are not true to what Tolkien wrote about. I’m not sure what the detractors mean. They may not be true to what -I- imagined them looking like back when I was 14, but Turbine’s version is close enough to the description in the books for me.

Innovative gameplay is also present in LotRO. I like the fact that Turbine is working on finding fun ways to do the same old things. In WoW, I loathed the “Fed Ex” type quests (delivering something for someone – basically a thinly-veiled excuse to take up time and resources). In LotRO there are also “Fed Ex” quests but many became mini-games by themselves. Delivering mail from one post office in the Shire to another was a great deal of fun: grab the mail, plot your course, avoid nosey Hobbits, get the mail to the next post office under the time-limit. Good times. And it’s always neat to watch other Hobbits leaping fences, avoiding nosey Hobbits and running across rooftops to get their mail delivered. The Shire itself is pretty amazing.

I haven’t played every class available, but the Burglar class is exceptionally well done. The way the class functions feels very much like a Burglar in The Hobbit: not a warrior-type but able to win victories through cunning rather than brute force. As a stealth class, I like having options about how to complete quests. I have managed several times to sneak my way into areas and steal the quest objective out from under the mobs surrounding it. Just like any other class, I can choose to simply fight my way in as well if I have to. I abandoned my Champion at level 14 - too much button mashing for me. My guardian sits idle at 37 - well implemented class, but the need to fight everything all the time gets old. My hunter is also sitting at 32 - interesting class and I may pick it back up again.

I appreciate the subtlety of the game. George RR Martin and Tolkien have that in common. No Drizzits roaming around destroying everything with ease. The world is a bitch, you’re not the center of the universe and evil things can kick your ass if you’re not careful. Evil is not a cardboard cutout. Evil is not always the monster in the corner with the horns and pitchfork. Evil doesn’t walk around kicking puppies; it knows that puppies aren’t worth destroying. Games where there is cartoon evil are fine; it’s neat to blast the crap out of the slobbering zombie that keeps saying “braaaaainsss” over and over again; but Tolkien shied away from overt forms of magic to make it subdued, requiring great skill to learn and uncommon. Yes, it means you cannot appear god-like in LotRO but you can still create a viable Tolkienesque character without the uber-leet stuff that comes along with it.

With all the stuff above that I really like comes some stuff that could still use some work.

The combat system can be a bit unwieldy. I’m not suggesting that characters get radical new powers or anything, but combat in LotRO does seem to suffer a lot from lag times or unresponsiveness. If I hit an ability, it could fire off immediately (which is a surprise), after a slight delay (the norm) or after a long delay (which I dread). That changing wait-state until an ability goes off is rattling. Those precious seconds between action and execution could very well change my anticipated strategy for dealing with a mob’s behaviors. For example, if the mob is a healer, I will keep Addle (an interrupt for burglars) in reserve. Once the hands glow green, I’ll fire it off. If the ability doesn’t hit, I will need to know right away so I can use one of my stuns. A long lag time on my Addle means the mob could get their heal off. Or I could miss Addle (or the mob could resist the interrupt) in which case I would also have to wait for my stun to fire. Much of the time Addle works fine but there have been a few cases where Addle got resisted, I hit the stun but missed my chance to stop the heal due to the wait time between abilities.

The content is not lacking. The problem is the abilty to play the system. Whether you’re a die-hard roleplayer or not, you will have to engage in combat countless numbers of times as you move your character from 1 – 50 (the current level cap). That means I will use Addle and all my other abilities thousands of times in many different combinations as I move up. If the process of using my abilities is cumbersome, the game will have a lot of problems retaining people. A game system needs to provide good content, but a good system contributes enormously to a game’s longevity. It is safe to say that no matter how long the game lasts, if I lose interest in the combat moves I need to make time after time after time, I will probably reroll or stop playing.

So overall, LotRO is fun to me. The world alone makes it worth it to spend time there. It is my hope that Turbine will keep up with their innovative approach to game play, keep expanding the world available to players, keep coming up with better ideas with things for players to do and fix some of the issues with combat. LotRO hasn’t been around as long as WoW, so of course it’s less refined. Hundreds of thousands of users playing a game is better to weed out bugs than a couple hundred beta testers. When WoW first came out they had problem after problem with their servers, inventories not getting updated correctly and innumerable bugs to get fixed. WoW is the game it is today because of Blizzard’s diligence in fixing all those problems. The result is the excellent, polished game you see today. LotRO will get there in time.


mbp said...

I am struggling with liking Lotro at the moment. I can't quite put my finger on why but think the main problem is that I have come to detest the unresponsive control system. I really want to like the game but it is becoming a chore.

Khan said...

Aye. A lot of negative comments about the game boil down to the control system. The article I linked from the Haven seems to explain the concepts pretty well. Seeing as how, at its most fundamental level, LotRO is a fighting game, the mechanics of fighting can really put a damper on game play if they aren't well-done.

Playing a burglar, where fighting is optional a lot of the time, changes my perspective on things a bit. The fighting mechanics may also explain part of the reason I left my guardian and hunter on the back-burner.

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