Lord of the Rings Online – Hands On
Lord of the Rings Online is coming out in a free-to-play format this autumn. It has been available since 2007 as a monthly subscription game, but has now been given the all clear for those of us who might not have enjoyed it enough to commit to such a permanent price. Those willing to continue paying, however, will receive a special VIP status which imbues the users account with special privileges and rewards.
The world of Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) is known to many as Middle-Earth. As LOTRO is a creation based upon Tolkien’s books it already has an extraordinary amount of background prepared. Whether you’re a fan of the books, or have never even heard of an elf, the overlying premise of LOTRO’s game world is brimming with story and adventure.
Like most games these days LOTRO is a good looking game, the characters, equipment and monsters all suit their terrain very well whilst the world is full of detail and provides a good spectacle. It would be hard to identify any area of the game as ugly or garish as the colours used are often spot on. The game also runs easily on higher visual settings without requiring a particularly expensive machine.
Characters can be created from any of the four standard races – Men, Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits, and depending on your race you’ll have a different story at the beginning of the game. Many of the characters’ physical features are customisable but luckily not to an outrageous degree. It’s not possible to run around looking like you’ve just electrocuted yourself after having chased several parked cars which could have broken the illusion of being in this particular fantasy setting somewhat. There is an initial choice of 7 character classes with 2 more being purchasable. There are limitations on the classes you can choose depending on your race. However once a choice is made each character is free to make his or her way in the world. Each race starts out in a unique location, and will adventure around that location in early quests until such a time when they are strong enough to venture out into the world and meet people from other areas and races.
As in any role playing game it’s a given that you’ll attack creatures and monsters in the wild in order to train and gain levels.
Those well versed in the world of Middle-Earth will find many a familiar place upon their travels which is rarely a bad thing. With a heavy emphasis on the Player vs. Monster style of gaming and little Player vs. Player LOTRO is very much a community based game. Those who want to play alone are at liberty to do so but the game makes it very easy and very rewarding to assist one another. Games like this usually form a much friendlier online community than those which have heavy areas of solo play and players taking on one another without ever conversing.
One of the most often overlooked sections of a game is its economy. The trading of equipment, currency, magical items and artefacts is a delicate process, and one which often needs to be modelled by the games designers very carefully. The addition of a new player base with items being bought for real world money might cause catastrophe in LOTRO’s economy, however, the developers are confident this isn’t going to be an issue.
Another issue which might arise from the new Free-to-Play (F2P) format is the difference between the VIP players and the F2P players. A new store has been added where players can purchase special items and equipment along with quest packs and expansions. VIP players will enjoy getting 500 points to spend in the store each month along with their subscription. These points can be earned through gameplay for both VIP and F2P users, but to acquire more either requires purchasing them with real world money, or upgrading to VIP status. It is not clear, however, if that’s going to be much of an issue. Those who enjoy the game enough to want to spend the extra cash probably will, and those who don’t, probably won’t mind the slight disadvantage.
All in all, the new F2P format for Lord of the Rings Online feels like a lot of fun. Many people who never tried it before based upon its subscription charge might now want to give it a try which is an excellent marketing ploy by the developers. For those who do venture forth into Middle-Earth, gripping gameplay and stunning scenery awaits.