Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Free Trial of The Lord of the Rings Online

I read the books; I seem the films; now I have played the online game. When The Lord of the Rings Online first came out, I wanted to try it but was unwilling to play for the monthly subscription fees to a game that I may not like.

So when LOTR Online announced that they went into an agreement with X-fire for an online trial, I was delighted. After World of Warcraft (WoW) and Age of Conan (AoC), I liked to see what LOTR Online has to offer.

After playing the trial, I have to say that Turbine Entertainment had created a world that both drew from the LOTR world, yet at the same time is very accessible to people who has never heard of LOTR. Yes, there ARE some people like that.

I have heard that the game was a WOW clone but I think that’s unfair. LOTR Online is a different kind of monster. Unlike WoW frenzied pace, LOTR has a more leisurely pace to it and in some areas it is superior to WoW.

The questing is an area LOTR Online excelled at. There’s no helpful arrow or shaded area on the mini-map like AoC. When the NPC tell you its west of here, you must travel west and find the location yourself. This almost forces you to go exploring, which isn’t a problem for me as I’m one of those explorer players. The quests are mostly very engaging with full texts on the reasons for the quest. It also helps that you see some famous people and locales in the story. The first time I reached the Prancing Pony, I smiled. When I saw Strider inside, I went “YES”! When I got to quest with him, I laughed. I especially liked the way the quests went along with the story, showing tales not in the books. For example with Strider, the quests showed what Strider was doing in the Prancing Pony before the hobbits showed up.

I also like the feel of history in the game. An example of this was when the game had you fighting along Elrond when the elf cities fell. That instance happened when you are playing an elf and it was centuries before the actual story in the book even started. The first dwarf instance shows you a scene before the story in “The Hobbit”. This gives you a sense of the history of Middle-Earth which was something I liked very much. There is also a lot to do in this game. More than once in the trial, I found that I had reached the 40 quest limit and had to abandon some of them. There is almost no sense of grinding because everyone will always have a quest or two in their quest log.

Gameplay is almost like WoW but I loved the traits. Traits are bonuses that grant your character extra bonuses for completing quests and leveling up. The thing is that the quests are chain quests and you need to complete all the requirements before you can get the trait. For example, the trait for ‘Patience’ requires you to do the Postmaster quests and there were 13 of them. You need to do them all for both the xp and the trait. I thought this was a great idea.

Another thing is that most of the traits were great, and there are hard decisions to make on what traits you want to have. The notary was also an interesting addition. Your character can have a family name at level 15, and you can have children. This seems to be something most players ignored but again it gives a sense of history to the game, like it is a fully live-in world packed with different families and stories.

However there are a few things I think the game need to improve on. As it’s a free trial, I tried all the races and all the classes available. There seems to be an unbalance in the classes and races. You can see Wardens and Lore-masters all over the place but some classes are almost unseen. At times, I thought I may be the only Minstrel in the game.

Also there are far more Men and Hobbits than Elves and Dwarves in the game. As such the area for Men and Hobbits are far more crowded than the Elves and Dwarves areas. This created some imbalance.

The download is also something Turbine and X-fire need to work on. It’s terrible!

You download the character creation first; follow by the tutorial, then the game. I played the tutorial while downloading the game as this was an option available. I finished the tutorial and I waited for hours for the game to finish the download. After a few hours, I gave up and re-start the download again. This time I waited for the game to finish the download before starting the tutorial. This time it’s much faster. I strongly suggest that you download finish the game totally before you starts playing. This is something I think Turbine and X-fire need to work on.

The Lord of the Rings Online is a fun, beautiful and accessible online role-playing game that will be a delight for any Tolkien fan. Even if you are not a fan of LOTR, you will find that this is a game that can stand on its own with slick presentation, engaging quests, appealing narrative, and a few excellent additions that distinguish itself from its competition

It’s an excellent game. Try it!

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