Well, this fourth part of my return to Lord of the Rings Online is maybe a bit more on the nerdy side. It's not about what you can do, or where you do it; it's about how you do it. The mechanics of the game.
Overall the combat in LotRO feels... okay. I like to move around a lot as I play. I'm not sure if that's because I think I actually get some tactical advantage, or if I just like to keep things moving to spice up the visuals. Regardless, when I play this way in LotRO I can notice the differences between what the client sees and what the server is tracking. It feels a bit… floaty. I'll often run up to a monster and realize that for a moment it's still tracking some previous snapshot of what my location was. The whole experience looks good, but it's not quite at the fidelity that I prefer.
"The average fight lasts around 30 seconds, which doesn't sound like much, but is forever when you're just trying to kill a freaking boar. The result is you never feel very powerful."
This complaint seems to have largely been a result of the class I was playing. The minstrel is intended as a healer role, and at the time I wrote the quote above I don't think they'd even added the minstrel's battle form. But even with those enhanced offensive abilities a minstrel seems to be many times slower at killing stuff. Probably a poor choice for my play style.
Since coming back to the game I've been trying a new character class: champion. The time to eliminate a single opponent is more on the order of 10 seconds, if that. I find myself free to heroically run at many opponents simultaneously, which is far more satisfying. It's a better fit for my playstyle, even if the melee combat does illuminate more of the latency issues.
It's a bummer that for this type of game you don't know whether your character class is a good fit for you until you've invested a lot of time in them. By the point you have enough data to make an informed decision it's too late. You're probably unwilling to start over, even if it'd produce a better long-term experience.
One thing that LotRO has that I've never seen in another game is the idea of a "fellowship maneuver." Certain characters can initiate an attack where everyone in the party participates by clicking one of four icons: morale (health), power (mana), direct damage, or damage over time. If the group coordinates you can pull off specific combinations that trigger even more powerful attacks. Of course there's always that one guy who's not paying attention and clicks green at the wrong time, but when it works it's a neat mechanic.
The modern MMO is mostly just a vehicle for loot addiction. It's all about the pursuit of making your character more badass. Leveling up is one obvious part of that, and the other part is stuff.
In general the gear you get in LotRO works exactly the same as it does in most other MMOs. But there are aspects that are themed to the fiction. Jewelry plays a stronger role (although you won't be stumbling upon any of the primary Rings of Power). There's also a pocket slot, which is a nice touch. But despite the fact that the stats on the items have different names and the rarity colors aren't what you're used to, it's all very familiar.
And then you get your first legendary weapon.
A legendary item is an item that levels up, just like your character. As it gains levels you can spend points on different stats, slot it with gems and runes, and even give it a name. These items stay with you for a long time. As a minstrel I tried to give all mine musically themed names. Above you see the sword "Sharp Crescendo". It's predecessor was a mace named "Percussive Force". These items become a deeper part of your character than just the normal gear your slap on. It's a fun system that makes loot that much more fun.
The Action Bar
"...they seem to have thrown too many options at you in an attempt to make it interesting. But instead most of the abilities end up blurring together and leaving you bogged down with your overcrowded quick bar."
I get a new ability about every other level. At first this was perfectly manageable. But after awhile I started to dread visiting the class trainer. Another ability? Where am I supposed to put this? This ability feels almost identical to another one I already have - when am I supposed to use it instead of the other one?
Yes, there is the possibility of loss of interest if what your character can do never changes, but this is taking it way too far in the other direction. Let's get more specific. Here's the action bar of your basic starting player, this one at level 6:
This particular character is a burglar. There's a stealth toggle, a couple basic attacks, a debuff, a GTFO emergency button, and some health and travel items. A perfectly acceptable set of actions, although probably not enough to keep someone satisfied in this style of game over hours and hours of play.
Here is my champion's action bar at level 28:
There's a lot going on there. The bottom row is all pure attacks. The next row up contains my personal buffs, some occasional use skills and health items. The rows above that have very infrequent use skills, plus my mount. The attack skills are roughly arranged in advancing order (this class builds up momentum as "fervor" points), with area of effect attacks bumped towards the right side.
As you can see I've already filled up my primary 12 key row. The next time I get an attack skill, it will have to go above that.. somewhere. It'll become harder and harder to organize, until eventually it'll be pure chaos. So I present to you the action bar from my level 65 minstrel:
Yeah, and that's not even everything. In addition to this here I have another vertical row of 12 skills on the right side of the screen. As for this core mega-grid, I can't even tell you what all those abilities are. The bottom row is my frequent use stuff, the tier one ballads (minstrels build up three levels of "ballads" that unlock "anthems", and then the cycle repeats), war-speech abilities (the minstrel's battle form that I've mentioned before), and some heals. Above that goes the rest of the ballads and the anthems, plus some more heals. Above that… um... the next two rows are mostly gibberish. I can pick out my craft skills and that's about it. Apparently I never use any of that crap.
Some of that probably doesn't need to be there. There's technically a skill window that I could use to access all of those abilities, but if it's anything that I might need in the heat of the moment then browsing the menu for a skill is a non-starter. So everything goes in a big clump at the bottom of my screen.
A few of those could be removed by making fixes to other game systems. For example you'll see three craft tools on that bar (Alt 1,2,3). Those are there because you can't use a craft skill unless you have the associated tool equipped. This includes gathering skills, so I'm constantly toggling between my prospecting pick axe and my woodcutting axe. It's dumb. To work around the dumbness I have to eat up three quick bar slots of permanent screen real estate.
Other icons on my bar could be removed with more integrated UI elsewhere. I have two icons pinned for tracking resources: ore and wood. That could easily be integrated into the map widget (as it is in WoW). It wouldn't even be that bad to set from the skill window if my tracking mode didn't reset every time my character died. So there are problems here that are partially due to game systems, and partially due to interface. As you can see we're once again encroaching upon my favorite topic…
Next up I'll just cut to the chase and rant about user interface.