If there was nothing else to mention, one thing would consistently stand out about Lords of the Rings Online: it is a very beautiful game. The art style does an excellent job of capturing the feel of the novels, as well as the movies. Moving through any given zone, you might be impressed by the reflection of your surroundings in a stream or lake, or merely by gazing off in the distance towards an almost watercolor-like horizon. It is easy to get lost in the visuals, especially as the signature pollen wafts by, or you stumble across a field of wildflowers surrounding an ancient ruin.
But wait, did you hear that? The lilting notes of a wavering elven song. The art in the game is accompanied by a very fitting soundtrack. While many people immediately disable the music in any game in favor of the sound effects, you are well-served by leaving it on here. My first encounter with it was approaching an elven outpost in the snowy Thorin’s Gate. Looking out over a lonely vista, I could hear the notes as if they were drifting over a hill from the distance. At first I thought they were tied in with the Minstrel trainer, but later discovered it was a constant feature. The EAX support is worth mentioning as well. Hearing a distant echo of dripping water while prowling a creepy-crawly-ridden cave is always a nice plus.
The only disappointment here is the voice over. Not the quality, mind you, but the amount. So far, it seems that it is limited to narration and general greetings from the NPCs. While I’d like to see more of it, what is currently available adds another nice touch to the roleplay-friendly aspects of the game. Being able to hear an NPC greet you in Sindarin is definitely cool.
The Roleplay Aspect
There are a few things that bear mentioning that don’t really fit into any other section. A number of features exist that really help to promote roleplaying in LotRO, without forcing it on an unwilling player. For instance, the clear delineation of chat channels with the OOC (Out of Character) channel. Another example would be looking up at the night sky to see constellations aloft in the heavens. Maybe the ability to create a virtual family, including titles, will strike your fancy. The level of detail Turbine has put into the creation of the world really shines through and makes getting into character that much easier. Perhaps you’re musically inclined, in which case you can practice your talents with the music system all players can access. Even if you don’t like to roleplay, these features take players just a little bit further into the realm of immersion.
Namárië, for now
Having only experienced the first 15 levels or so of the game, I still find myself with so much to talk about, more that could be crammed into one article. There is a lot to offer here, and not just with the game itself, but also the interesting side effects it has. If the current trend carries on through retail, you can expect the more social and chatty players to opt for the Hobbit race. For the more solitary and quest-focused players, you might expect to find them among the dwarves and elves. The differences in Out of Character chat and, to some degree, the type of quests available are remarkable.
This game may not be the next World of Warcraft, but, if you ask me, it’s a hell of a lot more fun. The general feel is that of a much more mature game, with much more style. In my limited experience, it seems obvious that Turbine has put a lot of thought into their design and mechanics, improving on the current standards of the genre. It is definitely evolutionary, and in a very good way. I expect Lord of the Rings Online will be one of the strongest survivors when the MMORPG version of the Demolition Man-style franchise wars roll around, even if it isn’t the most popular.
I’d like to thank Turbine for the opportunity to have a peek into their latest creation. I’m sold. My preorder is in. Here’s to seeing you folks in Middle-Earth; I’ll be waiting at The Prancing Pony.