Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lord of the Rings Online - A Returning Player's Thoughts

I've been playing a fair amount of Lord of the Rings Online (LotRO from here onwards) lately as it's now free-to-play, and I wanted to return to one of my characters, but I also wanted to see if the game itself had improved. I played it for a short while a few years ago, probably just before Siege of Mirkwood was released and around that time, and I enjoyed it in the same way I enjoy the average slice of toast. It did the job, but not much else. With The Secret World on the way from Funcom and Electronic Arts, I thought I'd give an massively multiplayer game another go and see if it works for me again.

After a period of about two weeks, I think I can reach a fairly safe conclusion. Turbine have not improved the game all that much, and it is perhaps worse than when I played originally. In the move to free-to-play, Turbine have made a lot of the features paid-for, whether it's the classes from the expansions, bank storage, certain mounts, bag space and even travel destinations. I feel that many of these changes exist simply to profit from the user, not to actually give the user something worth buying. I'll explain. You used to have six inventory bags when you started your character, but now you have four. You have to spend, I believe, ~800 'Turbine Points' to unlock the other two bags (i.e. ~400 each) across all your characters. Going by the current pricing, that's somewhere in the region of £8-10 to unlock two bags. As you level, you unlock traits in which you have a certain number of spaces to place them, and they generally take the form of  improved skills and improved stats. Now you have to pay ~100 points per trait slot after a certain number have been unlocked. Basically, it's petty.

I am what is called a 'Premium' member, which means I had the game before the free-to-play changes, so I'm better off than some. I had a nice wallet of Turbine points (About £15 worth) when I started, some extra character slots, my items from a starter item pack I'd purchased and all classes unlocked. I didn't, however, have access to content I'd originally paid for by buying the main game, such as the bag slots and a number of quest locations (Such as the North Downs). I felt that it was very cheeky for Turbine (Originally Codemasters as I'm in the EU) to recognise I'd bought the game and expansion, but then feel free to charge me again to access content I'd done before.

I subscribed this week, just for a month, and it feels a bit better, but it's still looming over me because you notice a divide. You have people who are free-to-play and have access only to the base content of the game, so that's a certain number of instances, characters, classes, skills and so forth. You then have people who subscribe and have access to almost everything. I can do things that others can't unless they pay for that content. It's such a shame to see it divided like that, because in a way it makes it hard to find a fellowship or kinship (Often called parties and guilds respectively in other games) as you can't guarantee the other players have the same things you do.

As for the gameplay, it feels very much the same. It feels like you have a lot of attacks or skills that do very similar things to each other, and it's confusing to know what to use and when. I'm somewhat lucky in that I've had previous experience with similar classes in these kinds of games, so I've managed to piece together something that half-works for my characters, but I dread to think how other players manage. The game also throws a lot of trivial quests at you, even in the so-called 'Epic' quest line (Which is the main quest line, one that's mostly the same for everyone). You could go from aiding Strider and meeting Gandalf to collecting Warg pelts for some bearded git in the Lone Lands. It's quite wobbly in that regard.

Visually, I think the game isn't too bad but it looks the same as my memory had it, even with higher graphics settings. The animations are good, and I really like the natural movements and expressions of player characters when you're stood around (They look like they might be thinking, their eyes and lips will move, it's very human), but I find other animations to be hilariously bad (Such as lying down).

I'm torn, if I'm honest. I enjoyed it initially, got swept up in the world of Middle-Earth and had some really good fun, but lately it's stagnated for me and I feel bored again, and in roughly the same spot as I did last time. I'm unhappy with how much I feel has been taken out of the game only to be sold back to me, and there's just something that doesn't grab me. I can't see myself playing for all that much longer, because I'm just getting worn out and bored with it.

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