Part the Second, in which Elrond makes his presence known
Instead of just plunking you down in the world and letting you have at it, new characters are safely deposited in an instanced introduction. In this introduction, epic events begin to unfold and the world of Middle-Earth starts to come to life for the player. As an Elf, I began in the Refuge of Edhelion, which was currently under assault and in a rather panicked state. In fact, the very first sight a fresh Elf is greeted with is fire blossoming in a distinctly elven city. Thrust into service after picking up a nearby weapon, it is now your task to help with the defense of Edhelion.
In what amounts to more than your typical tutorial, you rush through the streets, fighting off the invaders and assisting where you may. Along the way, you’re introduced to the basic abilities of your class, as well as the basic primer of knowledge that a new player needs to get started. This introduction also includes some of the well-known friends and foes of the world, including, in some cases, Elrond. The introductions for other races include Black Riders, Gimli, and Gandalf. After witnessing the sacrifice of one of your elven brothers, Elrond informs you that, while the battle may be lost, there’s a good chance you’ll be returning to the elven refuge at some point in the future.
Now it’s off to the rest of the game world, populated by other players, thousands of foes, and one newly-created Lore Master. Before I move on, though, this is a good opportunity to take a look at how LotRO uses instancing. Thus far in my limited career, each instance has been a means of punctuating the epic story-line of the over-arcing plot for each area. Think of it as the culminating chapter of each segment of a book. Instead of just throwing random instances out there in the wild to be explored by a party of adventurers, they become a sort of interactive fiction with player characters taking on the primary roles. This makes each instance a bit more unique, as well as something to look forward to, rather than just grinding out another raid in hopes of some phat l3wtz.
Another neat trick you may notice is how Turbine has skillfully used instancing to advance time in a given area. You may spend some additional time in the same terrain, but the quests, mobs, and objectives have all been retooled to reflect the changes you’ve wrought with your deeds. Effectively, you get to see your impact on the world in a way that hasn’t really been done before. Once you’ve completed the first “version” of an area, it is irrevocably altered reflect those changes. It is a nice step in the direction of a single-player role playing game not often seen in the massive space.
In between the instances, a character is free to roam the world and complete quests which should be familiar to most fans of the genre by this point. The typical variety is there: kill quests, delivery quests, and collection quests. The difference with LotRO is that the world quests tend to support the overall narrative of the area. For example, while questing in Thorin’s Gate, the area outside of Edhelion, players are working to prevent the re-emergence of the enemies faced inside of the introduction instance. Quests such as destroying necessary supplies or seeking out Elrond’s children for more information are intermingled with the typical, “There is a menace to the area and we could really use your help in polishing it off double-quick, thanks.” Once you played through this area, you’re treated to another instance, advancing the story and giving the player some closure on their efforts so far.
The concept of moments of advancement that surfaced in Dungeons and Dragons Online has definitely matured in LotRO. The combination of a high volume of quests that are easily finished in small chunks of time paired with the area-defining instances allows a player to feel as if they have really accomplished something during their play time. For me, it was distinctly more rewarding than just finishing a dungeon or defeating a more difficult named monster. Again, both of those options are available for players that desire that experience.
Now that we’ve looked at some of the gameplay, we’ll check out the user interface and how it makes a player’s life a bit easier. See you in the next segment!
(I’ve tried and tried and tried and tried…)