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The Lord of the Rings Online: Middle-Earth Explored
Turbine’s The Lord of the Rings Online (LotRO) turns eight this year. In MMORPG years, that’s geriatric, but don’t send it to the old folk’s home just yet: LotRO’s community is as active as ever and continues strong even as the game draws closer to the end of its first decade. What makes this MMO stand out? Why should you play it? As an avid player of LotRO for the past few years, here’s my take on what makes this game different from all the rest.
What is it?
The Lord of the Rings Online is an MMORPG, or a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is Free-to-Play, meaning that you can download, create a character, and explore the entire game without paying anything, although you cannot do quests in the higher-level areas without purchasing them first. The game allows a way for you to earn Turbine points within itself, which you can then use to purchase expansion packs and cosmetics.
In this game, you can explore Middle-Earth as Tolkien envisioned it, from the Shire and Ered Luin all the way to Gondor. If you are a fan of the books or movies or just fantasy in general and would like to learn more about the world Tolkien created, this game is a great way to do that. The game developers have taken extreme care with the world, and as a result, have created a wonderfully detailed replica of Middle-Earth that is true to Tolkien’s vision.
So what makes this MMO different?
By far, this game has the best community I’ve seen in any MMO by a long shot. First of all, it is gender-friendly. Turbine has adopted a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to player harassment of any kind (if you would like to view their policy, click here). While they understandably cannot keep track of things being said in online voice chat, they do provide a number of ways to avoid the player entirely, including a command to effectively silence all communications (even actions!) from that player. Their policy helps to keep the game a safe place to play, and serves to keep the community friendly.
If you create your character on one of the role-playing servers (Landroval and Laurelin) then you will be treated to a ton of player-created events. For example, every year in either June or July, Landroval hosts a huge concert event featuring bands from all the different servers, called Weatherstock. Hundreds of players from different servers show up to listen to player-created music, chat, and vote for their favorite musical group in the Battle of the Bands. LotRO’s music system is incredibly unique and allows events like this to be easily organized. It allows players to create their own music, upload it in .abc format, and then play them in-game using the variety of instruments. This allows for players to host their own concerts, and often on Landroval you’ll find a regular schedule of bands playing each night.
One of the largest kinships on the server, The Lonely Mountain Band, hosts a gathering of good drinks and stories every Monday night. Players can tell stories, recite poetry, or play music in a friendly environment. If music isn’t your cup of tea, Landroval also hosts horse races every spring, as well as plays and costume contests using the game’s extensive cosmetic system. If you would prefer to learn about the lore behind the game, each week on Monday nights, Mythgard Mondays on Landroval features an in-depth discussion of how the game world relates to J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, hosted by the Mythgard Academy (website here). If you are familiar at all with video games, you probably know that a major problem is the issue of armor. There are a lot of popular games that don’t take the issue of female character objectification seriously, and instead produce skimpy armor for female-gendered characters, forcing your high-level warrior character to fight baddies in skimpy bikini armor, while her male counterparts wear armor that at least covers their vital organs. In LotRO, however, this isn’t the case. Even high-level kick-butt warrior gals wear armour that completely covers all their vital organs. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything to wear that even shows cleavage.
Here’s a collection of armour, shown on a female elf character.
Because of the wide variety of armour available in-game, there is an extensive cosmetic system in place. You can create a whole wardrobe of outfits from any class, as everything becomes unlocked once you place it in your wardrobe. This means that, although my medium-armour wearing hunter cannot wear heavy armour, I can place a piece of heavy armour in the wardrobe and then equip it cosmetically (for some examples, visit the Lotro Stylist or Cosmetic Lotro).
How does the lord of the rings online play?
As an MMORPG, LotRO doesn’t stray far from other games of its kind in being quite “grindy,” meaning that you’ll often find yourself doing mindless repetitive tasks for experience. It follows the typical adventure format, where you receive quests and then earn experience and rewards upon completing them. If you’re looking for a game that has unique gameplay, LotRO unfortunately is not it.
Lord of the Rings Online features ten playable classes and four races, all of which were created based on the lore of the books. That is, each class has some background in the Lord of the Rings trilogy or in the appendices, so you won’t find anything that doesn’t fit with the world. Here’s a basic run-down of the classes (from the Lotro-Wiki):
- Hunter: This is your basic ranger class. Uses bows and arrows for high damage.
- Champion: This is the basic warrior class. Takes foes down quickly with high damage.
- Burglar: The basic stealth/thief class. Sneaks around and attacks enemies from behind.
- Minstrel: The bard. Heal your allies with song or take your enemies down quickly.
- Lore-Master: Uses pets (such as ravens, eagles, and bears) as well as control of the elements to quickly eliminate foes.
- Captain: Buffs allies to make the group stronger, but also controls a soldier when solo.
- The following are locked, and must be paid for in order to play:
- Warden: Highly mobile, use javelins and spears to take down enemies.
- Rune-keeper: Uses the power of ancient runes to wield fire and ice magic.
- Beorning: A shape-shifter classes, harnessing the power of the bear to inflict high damage.
Each class has been balanced to allow for both group and solo play, ensuring that you can play however you want. Most of the classes are very basic, found in many MMO-style games. LotRO offers some unique classes, though, in the Warden and Beorning, as the Warden uses gambits, which use basic skills to build a chain that unlocks special gambit skills to either do a ton of damage or healing, and the Beorning is a shapeshifting class.
If you’re looking for a game that focuses on an incredibly detailed environment, look no further than Turbine’s Middle-Earth. Each area of Middle-Earth in game has its own unique feel. Doing quests in the Shire, for example, might have your character retrieving spoiled pies or clearing an area of pests, while quests in Rohan often focus more on the looming threat of Sauron and the orc army. Your task in LotRO is to help the fellowship from behind the scenes, and takes you to some unique and interesting areas not mentioned in the movies.
If you’re looking for a game set in an incredibly detailed world, or are a fan of Lord of the Rings, definitely check LotRO out. Because it’s free, there’s no harm in trying it out.
Pros: Great community, player-run events, and cosmetic system. Incredibly detailed environment.
Cons: If you enjoy the game, you will have to purchase other areas in order to advance your character. There are also three classes that are locked and must be purchased in order to play.
Price: Free to download and try, up to a certain point. After that, its up to you how much you want to spend.
Also available on Steam.
Have you played The Lord of the Rings Online? Let us know what you think in the comments! Are there any other MMO games you’d recommend?