Wednesday, March 16, 2011

LotRO Revisited - Part 1 - The World

Now that I've put up my complete words from 2008, it's time to re-evaluate the Lord of the Rings Online of today.

"... there's no doubt in my mind that WoW is a superior game.  But when you've exhausted all of WoW's content, and you haven't written off the genre as a whole, you can do worse than to slum it out to LotRO."

Well, that's an unflattering quote to start off with.  It's also not untrue.   Basically the only times I've played LotRO have been when I've been bored with WoW.  There's never been a time when WoW was satisfying me that I thought about maybe playing some LotRO instead.

But this free to play thing changes the comparison.  It's no longer just about which game is a "better" game; it's about which game gives you the most enjoyment for your time and money.  I'm cheap enough to think about what $15 a month means to me.  Okay, $15 doesn't sound like much, but over a year that's $180, and I don’t know if WoW is that much better than LotRO.  Probably the hardest part for me is the knowledge that if I'm not playing the game then I'm wasting $15 a month.  The flexibility LotRO now offers of being able to play as frequently or infrequently as I want is extremely compelling.  And for my infrequent play style, LotRO may just be the better choice.

I'll get more into the free to play details later, but for now I need to close the gap between 2008 and 2011.

World and Travel

"Comparing to the fiction, [the game] basically only allows access to locations where events started to get interesting.  There's no Lonely Mountain, no Moria, no Isengard, and certainly no Mordor.  Spending hours of your time grinding through a field that the Fellowship breezed through doesn't exactly leave a heroic taste in your mouth."

Well, since I wrote these words there have been two large area expansions: Moria, and Mirkwood.

Moria is a huge labyrinth of underground halls and caverns.  When you see the Bridge of Khazad-dûm you will find it cracked in half, as that you arrive after Gandalf's passing.  It's an epic space that hits a wide spread of underground themes.  It's nice for awhile, but it wasn't long before I felt the need for some fresh air and open sky.  Thankfully when you've leveled your way through the content you emerge in the elven city of Lórien, providing a much appreciated change in scenery.

If you look on a map Mirkwood is huge, but the Mirkwood expansion only lets you poke around a small section of it.  It's an appropriately spooky forest, if a bit monotone.  Sadly I can't think of a single landmark that burned itself into my memory.  So I rode around for awhile until I found a cool scary tree for a photo.

From a palette perspective you could just consider Moria to be the "mine" expansion and Mirkwood to be the "forest" expansion - with not a lot of variety within either.  This is an ongoing struggle for LotRO.  The fiction isn't host to fantastical scenery.  Pretty, absolutely; imaginative, no.  What it lacks in inspiration it makes up for in quantity of historical locales, but here the slow drip of releases prevents me from achieving satisfaction.

For what it's worth the next large expansion is scheduled to release this fall and will add Rohan.  This should add key landmarks like Isengard, Helm's Deep, Edoras, and Fangorn Forest - definitely many things to look forward to.

"And this is where I think the license is working against the game: In trying to own up to the epic size of the world the developers have created an epic amount of work for themselves.  If it's taken this long to get us to the Misty Mountains, how long will it be until we're at the steps of Mount Doom?"

Apparently a long time.  What's released right now basically brings us to the end of Fellowship.  It's  been four years (2007 to 2011), and that doesn't count the development time prior to launch.  The next expansion will officially start progress into the Two Towers.  Insert some fuzzy math and at that rate it'll be around 2019 before the core landmass from the trilogy is completed and we can /dance in Barad-dûr.  By that point I expect to be able to play the game on retinal implants as I jetpack to work in the coastal Cascades.

What I can say is that what's available is lovingly crafted, and I expect that trend to continue.  But the rate of expansion remains maddeningly slow.


Next time I'll talk about all the sorts of quests and various activities to do in this finely crafted Middle Earth.

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