The modern MMO is a slick, streamlined and very accessible beast. There’s an emphasis on action combat, easy grouping, dynamic content. Launching the client, logging on and getting into the game is all designed to be a frictionless process. The Elder Scrolls Online and Guild Wars 2 are both prime examples of this and as a result are MMOs that are very friendly towards new players. There isn’t any skill bloat and the game's mechanics and systems are very intuitive, so new players are not presented with a difficult learning curve. Furthermore, despite having substantial game clients to install, new players can frequently access the starter areas while the remainder of the game is still installing.
However, notwithstanding the accessibility of newer titles, some older MMOs still have their virtues and selling points. One such example being The Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO), which has remained within the pantheon of MMORPGs for over a decade. It has the benefit of being based in one of the most iconic and beloved intellectual properties available in the fantasy genre, as well as ten years’ worth of content to play through and an established and mature community supporting it. Still not convinced? Let us look further at some of the advantages of LOTRO over other MMOs and consider further why it is still worth playing.
The Best Price Around
LOTRO launched back in 2007 with a subscription-based service, as many MMORPGs of that time did. However, the then developers, Turbine decided to move to a hybrid free-to-play business model in 2010, after a similar transition had been successfully made with one of their other titles, Dungeons and Dragons Online. The current business model offers a range of options. The initial starter zones in Western Eriador are free and can provide content up to level 30. This provides adequate material for new players to get to grips with the game. There are then several options regarding progressing further. A subscription of $14.99 a month unlocks all content from the original game, Shadow of Angmar. It also offers additional character slots, bag space and removes the gold in-game cap. Expansions can then be bought for money or LOTRO points. If you don’t wish to invest in specific expansions, you can simply unlock the quests on a zone by zone basis. Furthermore, the in-game currency of LOTRO points can be earned by achieving specific meta deeds. Therefore, the new LOTRO player has a variety of options and can spend exactly as much as they wish.
A Finely Tuned Game
After a decade of development and multiple revisions, LOTRO is now a very streamlined game. The first 50 levels take the new LOTRO player through several iconic zones that have been optimized for progression. Although LOTRO may have an older game engine, the graphics have been updated in recent years and the character models are currently being revised. The vivid colors and stylized graphics suit the virtual world and game aesthetic. There are a wide variety of cosmetic options which allow the player to customize the look of their avatar, as well as a plethora of emotes. LOTRO is one of a handful of games that has a music system which allows players to utilize a variety of instruments. Songs can be played back via files and players can perform in synchronized groups. LOTRO has also adopted some contemporary game embellishments. For example, loot goes directly into your bags if you want. Subscribers can also handle all mail directly from their avatar, rather than via mailboxes.
LOTRO also offers varying difficulty of gameplay, depending on which class you pick. Traditional tank, DPS, and healing roles are available and there are a wide variety of classes that will suit different styles of gameplay. The ranged DPS of the Hunter is very accessible whereas the Warden offers a far more challenging experience and will suit the player who enjoys mastering complexity. If you enjoy competitive PvP and endgame Raiding, LOTRO can offer both. There is also a group finder to facilitate multiplayer content. However, if you prefer to play alone, then you will find LOTRO to be a solo friendly game.
Narrative Driven, Social Gaming
LOTRO includes most of the attributes and functionalities you expect from the MMORPG genre. However, it has another ace up its sleeve. The MMO is still strongly associated with social gameplay. Group content, social interaction and communities are still very much the backbone of LOTRO. Guilds or Kinships as they are known in the game, are integral to the games allure and charm. Although it is not essential to be in one, being a member of a kinship provides numerous benefits. There are the obvious logistical advantages of shared resources, the pooling of knowledge and experience, as well as playing through content in a group. But it is the social aspect that seems to shine in this game. Most of the LOTRO players I know are members of a kinship and many have found long-term friendships as a result. Unlike other MMOS, the social grouping is more than just functional. Due to the international nature of the player base, you’ll find kinships of every nationality, race, and religion. If you genuinely want more than a solo experience from your MMO gaming then look no further than LOTRO.
Another aspect of LOTRO in which the game excels is the story structure and quest lines. All are driven by strong narratives, couched in the lore of Middle-earth. The writers have always shown an abiding love and affection for the work of Professor Tolkien and this is reflected in both the main epic storyline, right down to the smallest regional quest. You’ll often find references both big and small to the events of the trilogy of books, as well as links to tales dating further back in the Third Age. For example, there’s a minor quest in the South Farthing of The Shire, in which a young Hobbit falls asleep onboard a small covered wagon. He subsequently recounts a tale of a tower in a circle of rock and a scary old man dressed in white. It would appear that he has unwittingly hitched a ride to Isengard, via one the supply wagons Lotho Sackville-Baggins is sending to Saruman. It is minor asides such as these that embellish LOTRO and delight those who enjoy the source texts upon which they’re based.
Role Play and Community
LOTRO presents a golden opportunity to role players and there are two dedicated servers which favor this style of gameplay. As a result, on both Landroval and Laurelin servers, you will find a great deal of in-game social activities. The game's music system contributes towards this immensely, and there are regular player-organized festivals. Furthermore, many role players extend their avatars activities beyond the game, so you’ll frequently find websites and blogs with fan fiction and poetry. LOTRO still has a healthy blogging and podcasting scene per se, that will keep you informed of developments, activities and provide game guides. The game tends to have a more mature fan base and has a reputation for its friendly and supportive community. Hence, there is no shortage of kinships available, ranging from RP, PvE, PvP and purely social. Naturally, you will find a few malcontents here and there, but overall the zone chat is mainly civilized and welcoming.
The Intellectual Property
LOTRO is unique as there are no other Tolkien-based MMOs available at present, nor is there likely to be in the immediate future. Turbine (now Standing Stone Games) were extremely forward thinking when they decided to take the development of this game forward. I have played LOTRO since 2008 and what I have discovered during that time is that although the game attracts MMO players, it also attracts Tolkien aficionados. Many of those who play LOTRO do not play other games or even consider themselves as gamers. The intellectual property is a magnet for fans and frequently a stepping stone into the world of gaming. Hence you have a community and player base that is very dedicated and forgiving, because of their affection for the source material. Few other MMOs have that sort of community. LOTRO offers an opportunity to immerse yourself in Middle-earth. For many, that vision of Middle-earth is closer to Tolkien’s vision that the movie adaptations. LOTRO has its own original aesthetic and style to the Peter Jackson movies. Furthermore, after ten years there is a prodigious amount of Middle-earth for fans to explore. No other MMO can offer players access to The Shire, or Rohan or the Dead Marshes. So, in many respects, LOTRO is an MMO occupying its own bespoke niche in the gaming market.
Although some may argue that the halcyon days of the MMORPG are gone, there are still several enduring titles that can offer new players an engaging virtual world to explore and quest in. LOTRO is one of these. Not only can not it satisfy your MMO itch, but also provide a franchise-specific experience that no other game can directly compete with. Furthermore, after celebrating its tenth-anniversary last year, the developers have plans to expand the game further, adding yet more of Middle-earth to the game. Northern Mirkwood, Erebor, and Dale are currently in development and will be available soon. So, if you’re looking for an original and immersive depiction of Tolkien’s world, with a narrative driven story and welcoming community, then look no further than LOTRO. Just remember the wise words of Bilbo Baggins. “It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”