Review by ccarney
"Nothing New But Still Worth Experiencing"
This is a solidly built, capable system that will be around for a while. That said, it doesn't offer anything very new or exciting. If you're bored with your current MMO choice, it's a viable alternative, otherwise, you're not missing out.
LOTRO relies too heavily on the fact that everyone is familiar with the troubles and tribulations of Middle Earth. To that point, most areas do little in the ways of standing on their own, instead defaulting to that familiarity for any sense of relevance or purpose. The starting areas are each a picturesque landscape, characterized by the different races, but aside from the early locations such as Bree, they offer little in the way of relevance - very little is memorable, although it works well with the atmosphere of the greater metaplot.
The saving grace of the story are the cutscenes and the frequent instances, each that have a cinematic pace set to them. It was delightful as a first time player to have the starting town burst into flames in a particularly dramatic instance, and find the town permanently charred. The game works really hard to make you care about what is going on in its mini-plot. Unfortunately, for all its entertainment value the first time around, it's not all that enticing.
To break this down more thoroughly, the environmental detail is pleasant well realized. This game does what is very hard to do, create a pleasing natural environment without being either too bland and drab or too fantastic and colorful. There is an equilibrium to the environmental art, wherein trees and grass and flowers and shrubs are all detailed enough to pass off as pleasing to the eye and realistic by themselves without being resource hogs, but their arrangement in the landscape is tasteful and plentiful. Where other games will have patches of extreme environmental detail contrasted with large patches of bland and obviously neglected terrain, LOTRO provides a thorough and well realized landscape. Likewise, the buildings are pleasant and well realized, existing harmoniously with their environment, creating the illusion that they were actually constructed with concern to their location, not just slapped down in a place that had suitable terrain.
The character graphics are pleasing but not so impressive, nor is the itemization overly enticing. Hair textures were drab and grainy, the faces mostly look the same and the available details are hardly noticeable in actual play. Many of the options for your characters appearance are not very distinctive. Certainly, the end result is competent but hardly an improvement on the industry standard. I did have some issues with the proportions on the human males where they ended up with something of a doll-like waist. As well, some of the clothes you can pick up, while reminiscent of squalid medieval peasants, looked a little silly when actually worn. Lastly, many of the NPCs you will encounter are not created with standard character graphics, but lower res generic faces and hair.
The animations are okay, nothing spectacular - some of the jump animations though are a little bit prancy and silly. The selection of emotes are pretty good and offer some new choices (such as smoking a pipe) and allow you to add little flourishes here and there, such as special dance moves you can do as part of your normal dance emote or blowing smoke rings while smoking.
I was impressed though that some enemies would have lingering visual effects in combat, such as spiders that would shoot you with webbing. The webbing would stick to the player in multiple spots and stretch as you moved. The overall visual effect of these details were impressive and very cool.
The game has a slowish-clunky feel, further complicated by the fact that the controls to the game have only been polished up to a passable level. There are a few issues where controls are not as context sensitive as they should be and the game gets confused easily when jumping/strafing is involved. Nothing show stopping or even really annoying, just not polished.
I personally don't like the UI. I feel it's small and bland. Icons for abilities are not all that descriptive, and if I need to find something I don't use often, I really have to squint and hunt it down. Again, nothing show stopping, but poor enough to warrant mentioning.
This game doesn't really offer anything new in the way of combat and navigation. Combat is pretty much standard fare, but runs a bit on the boring side. For all the various characters I played, I didn't bother to really think about what I was doing, but simply waiting for abilities to refresh (many of which take an unfortunately long time in battle). Once I got my hotbar lined up, combat broke down into pressing 1-9 in order with some repeating patterns. I didn't feel that I had many abilities that were situationally relevant, nor did I feel any particular affection to any individual skills - there were no spells or abilities I got that were particularly cool or stood apart from the pack.
One major thing that bothers me about the classes and their list of abilities is there is very little available that a player can use outside of combat. Most effects have a very short duration, leaving conventional buffing completely out of the picture. This, in some ways, is actually a good thing, but it left me feeling like my character had no tools besides those purely relevant to combat.
A large highlight of the game is the deeds system which is a fantastic concept that is well realized in the game. This system is excellent at keeping track of every little thing you do, from using abilities to completing quests to exploring, and gives you a lot of little rewards. This system runs a little bit on the cosmetic side, earlier in the game, but seems to be set up to be the definitive way you customize the way your character plays. The system gives you a constant influx or new titles and traits - each little ways of making your character a little bit more customized - and does so in a way that makes even grinding seem relevant. Even with every quest for an area completed, you could still probably adventure there and feel like you're accomplishing something. It does an excellent job at keeping you interested.
This game has crashed on me maybe twice, both times during a load. This game is built sturdy and reliable, it's easy to run on its highest settings, and I've never seen any graphics lag. The servers seem like their built out of rebar and concrete - I've never seen them go down. Compared to the technical nightmares a lot of new games always seem to offer, this game seems to break the curse.
This is a GOOD game. It is solidly built, pleasant, reliable and competent without any glaring flaws, nor any crowning achievements. I'm as big a Tolkien fan as the next guy, but I don't find the lore aspect of the game all that enticing, as the restrictive nature of the license seems to limit the potential of this game as much as it benefits it.
The bottom line is that if you're bored and restless with the game you're currently playing, this is an excellent option. If you've never played an MMO before and are wondering if this is the one, it's as good a starting point as any game on the market. If you're concerned about the longevity of most new games coming out, you can bet safely upon this one to stick around for a while. If you're happy where you are though, I wouldn't sell the farm to play this game as it probably wont give you an experience superior to what's currently out there.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/01/07
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