Gawd, Not Another Hobbit

As I mentioned in passing yesterday, I picked up a copy of LOTRO.  I have to say that it’s not a bad game, and I was pleasantly surprised.  So, here’s a mini-review for those of you considering the game:

Let’s start with the strong points.  Very much like WAR, from the very creation of your character, you feel involved in the overall story.  That’s a big plus to me, because I enjoy story-driven games.  Another very strong point is the detail in the environment.  I was amazed when my Champion wandered out of town and found himself in the middle of a field where the grass was literally waving in the wind.  The buildings and ruins are fairly evocative, but I do feel that WAR’s architecture is a little more evocative, probably because of the sinister lighting that Mythic employed.  The character art is a little less detailed than what is available in WAR, and textures are a little bit “off.”   The character animations in LOTRO are a little stiff and “wooden” in comparison to other games, which slightly detracts from the aesthetics.   Overall graphics are roughly on par with WAR.  I won’t compare them to WoW, simply because WoW has gone for a slightly-cartoonish look, whereas both LOTRO and WAR went for a more pseudo-realistic appearance.  Suffice it to say that there is enough eye candy in LOTRO to make me happy.

Let’s talk game play, next.  I found the client to be nicely responsive, though I do seem to have a tendency to keep moving when I stop pressing the “w” key.  Through trial and error, I’ve narrowed this down to holding in ANY key while moving – you just continue to move forward.  I’ve found that even holding in the left mouse button causes my character to keep sprinting merrily along, and the character will only stop when I take my hands away from both the mouse and the keyboard.  It’s an irritating “undocumented feature,” but it’s not a game-breaker (though it is consistently annoying).

I find the UI to be one of the weakest points in the game.  I use both a n52e keypad and a G11 keyboard, so I imagine I can program these devices to overcome the shortfalls in the interface.  A player shouldn’t be forced to dump a load of cash on peripherals, though.  Also, the skill icons which you drag into your quickbars should be redone, in my opinion.  They are a bit too vague as to form and function.  I suppose you can just get used to them over time, but why not just put function before form and make the icons more evocative of what they represent?  A sword for a melee attack, a target for a ranged attack, a cross for a healing ability, etc.  I also wish that I could drag stuff around the screen a little more to free up the viewing area.  The warden I generated has an additional window that makes things look very cluttered.  A final note: I really, REALLY missed the quest tracker that WAR uses.  Having to wander around to find the very region where you can complete a quest is truly annoying.  I like exploring, and I spent a few hours just wandering around the introductory zones because they looked so compelling.  However, when I want to go finish a quest, I don’t want to be forced to tour the whole region looking for a weed or a hidden cave.

Finally, let’s examine the overall game experience.  This is a PvE game, make no mistake about it.  I think this was a wise move.  In WAR, you can play one of the evil races and have no qualms about it, because you’re going off to fight other players just like the “good guys” are.  In a PvE game, you are forced to really embrace the story behind your faction.  Unless you are a sociopath who gleefully sets their neighbor’s dog on fire as a way of unwinding on weekends, you won’t enjoy plumbing the depths of depravity as an evil character in a PvE game.  I suppose a publisher could present a more sanitized version of the evil races in Middle Earth, but it would fly in the face of the Intellectual Property.  So, you play one of the good guys in LOTRO.  Or, at least one of the non-evil guys.  The quests that I have finished have all been very appropriate to the setting, and the epic quests have a nice over-arching storyline going.  Kudos to the writers for that.  There are also 3-person instances in the game, which I feel is an absolutely brilliant move.  Soloing gets old, but trying to grab five other people can be a chore.  Three people is just right – get two of your closest friends, and you’re off on an adventure.

Overall, I’d give LOTRO a B+.  It’s a solid PvE game with decent graphics and a good storyline.  I just wish the UI could be customized.

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