Tuesday, 12 October 2010

LOTRO - An Appraisal

Okay, today I'm going to be brutal, I'm going to be honest, I'm going to talk about Lord of the Rings Online. A game I have picked up and played in the last month.

I had played a trial account way back when to get me an idea of how LOTRO plays, I wasn't impressed back then, and I'm not overly impressed now.  A few details have been fixed up, a few bits and pieces have been sorted out, but I still look at the game and can't see the appeal factor.

This time I've come to LOTRO, again on a trial, but without my WoW glasses on, I've not played WoW in nearly a year so I gave LOTRO its own shot, first things first, getting the client... You have a few options.  Previously there were options to download the game and it would load content up dynamically in the background; this was the option I took before; and I was up and running in the game looking around after about 30 minutes.  This time however, with a lot more content in the game (with the different chapters having been released) I opted to download it all... 30 hours to get the client.

Now let me tell you, 30 hours is a pain in the bum, I also tried to download the client (later on) by the Torrents available from Codemasters... it took 6 days...

I was informed, unofficially, that this was because LOTRO is going free to play, so they are looking at torrent seeding and less HTTP server bandwidth for installing the game, as a key cost cutting exercise.  And I can only think they are cutting off their nose to spite their face.  If players are being made to go down a RMT route to fund your game, the most basic thing you can do is save them from having to wait a week for the client...

Anyway, I got into the game, after about 1000 additional patches (seriously, 1000 ish patches WTF!) and I started a Dwarf.  Not my natural go to race, but I find that these games have an interesting story line for Human but the other races get ignored.

So, in I went, what immediately stuck me was how bad the game looked, it seemed to default me to a silly low resolution and no anti-aliasing.  And it looked horrible, worse than horrible, it was terrible.  So, I quickly upped the graphics resolution, slapped on some anti-aliasing and restarted the client.

It looked a lot better, I would make out my characters face, it no longer looked like someone caught on google street view.

I enter the game, and classically you're faced with a few tips and an NPC right there to tell you where to go.  Here's my first comment about the interface.  I didn't like it... The icons are functional, they do what they say they will do, but there is immediately a lot going on.  You have all your bag slots, you have skills, you have a dial and a marker thing which is not explained, you have a load of icons to the left, some of which I've still not used yet... It is information over load.

I played through to level 4, and let me tell you, I used 4 buttons on this interface, including my skills... Two for actions in attacking, one to open my bags and one to open my character sheet and drop items onto my character.  4 buttons.  Yet there is more than 20 on the screen...

This sort of sets the precedence, there is a lot of information to get through.  Talking to NPC's you have an interface pop up window, in which is their text, I found the text quite hard to read.  It is a serif font (like Times Roman) it is presented in a block, with a blue background and blue buttons, there's not a lot of distinguishing going on.  We all know another game in the genre uses a parchment style looking quest text box, and it defaults on install to showing the text appearing with a writing pen scratching sound... this is much better than LOTRO's approach, just a pop up full of grey/white text on dark blue... with dark blue buttons to proceed.  Not that other games get this perfect, but LOTRO seems to have this one quite badly done.  I even pondered, while still below level 10, going to look for a mod to change the quest text, until I stopped myself and made myself play on.

And made myself I did not, my first job was to jolly down a mine and watch a bit of annoyingly cut of action... “Oh we can't go through this gate”.. bish bash whollop “oh we can now”... erm... what, you just happened to not have the key in your pocket until we were made to watch that distant action go on?

Anyone who has played a Dwarf in LOTRO will know to what I refer and probably hold it in mind with fond memories, it is the first time you are introduced to Gandalf for example... but I just found it frustrating.

Other comments I have is the animation and performing actions (like shooting my bow) seemed to me to be rather clunky.  They were not bad for a game, but they weren't brilliant, average would be being generous to them.  The actions just simply didn't flow from one to another.  And LOTRO suffers, at least the dwarves do, of terrible jump action... you jump and your character lifts into the air really quickly... then some weird gravity takes over, that seems to slow your descent... clunky, ugly and off putting.

Now, this sounds all pretty negative doesn't it.. well don't worry, I'm sure there's something positive about LOTRO.  And when I find out what it is, I'll be sure to let you know, but now onto the rest of the game as I saw it coming up.

The world around me, though certainly brought alive by numerous NPC's was pretty sterile, there is a lot going on though, so I set about exploring.  I was sent after Lynx pelts... that's right, no Kobolds or Rats for me, it's 6 Lynx Pelts, so I tramp up a road indicated as the place I might find some... and I find a Lynx, but just a single one, there's goblins and other creatures up there in the hills, but no more Lynx... I kill so much other stuff in this pretty small area, and eventually decide to head back to the town to empty my bags of the junk I've picked up... when low and behold I see Lynx, lots of Lynx...

And this is what bugged me... I had levelled up to level 4 killing other things in the hills there... this is a level 1 or 2 quest... so I'm going to lose XP handing it in “late”, you know what I mean... so I kill these level 1 Lynx in one hit and survey the area.... in real life terms the area must be 100 meters by 200 meters... it's not a long way, yet in it there is a sliver, less than a quarter, of the first gap containing Lynx... And it looked so easy to wonder away from them, and seemed so much easier just to shoot other animals and entities for XP... that set a bad taste in my mouth... If you can walk past one of the first beginner quest objectives, just hands in pockets whistling while you walk on by, I wondered how the rest of the game might fair for quests...

I'm yet to find out, as at this point I went back to down, sold all my junk, endured the annoying NPC screen as I bought my new skills from the hunter trainer, and then set about working out how to eat and drink to replenish myself.

Everything in the game so far seems to be bog standard MMO fair, it just doesn't seem to hang together nearly neatly enough for me.  It seems awkward, almost forced.  Some parts of the game looks really nice, but closer inspection of the graphics made me wonder about the quality of the engine, it is after all meant to be newer than WoW, but comparing the two, I'd have to say WoW looks prettier.


  1. If you didn't think LOTRO looked good, you either have a crappy computer or the wrong settings. LOTRO looks awesome -- WAY better than WoW at its highest settings

  2. uhmm Anonymous you can take it from me that he hasn't got a crappy computer or the wrong settings.
    His computers are some players wet dreams.