Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Second Look at LotRO

This last week I’ve taken another look at Lord of the Rings Online, courtesy of a 10-day “Buddy Pass” bestowed upon me by some random person on the [H]ard|OCP forums (thank you the18thletter!).

My time in the beta was brief, but not for a lack of availability. The game was there to be played for quite a while, I was just still caught in the steel grip of World of Warcraft, and really only played LotRO once or twice to mostly get a basic overview of the graphics and general feel of the game. I felt I owed it to you guys to at least show some screenshots and impressions for those of you not chosen for the beta. I’m officially tired of Warcraft at this point, and checking my email every twelve seconds for a Warhammer beta invite that might or might not come. In the meantime, I’ve taken up LotRO again to keep me busy.

There were two big points that I made in my intial preview back then, and I’ll take another look at them now.

1) The game looks good, if your machine can handle it.

I stand by this still. The game itself is a pleasure to run around in and soak up. WoW has a distinct graphical styling that it does, and does well. You don’t compare Half Life 2 directly to Zelda the Wind Walker. They both look great, but in different ways. WoW is the Wind Walker of MMOs. In LotRO, walking from Archet (the starting town) to Bree is awesome. Trees sway in the breeze, and you can see the moon reflected in puddles you walk past... if your machine can handle it. Another random note on nighttime in LotRO is how fucking dark it actually is. You can’t see shit, but that’s what night is supposed to be like. In WoW, night just feels like the ‘blue’ time of day. The cities and towns are big, and feel fleshed out. I don’t like that entering any building requires ‘zoning into that building’s instance portal’ but whatever.

2) The UI is kind of meh.

You can drag the windows around and rearrange where the quest tracker (for example) shows up on your screen. Woopty wootcakes. Compared to the ridiculous extensibility of Addons in WoW, this isn’t very impressive. In my initial preview, I mentioned how the buttons kind of lit up, faded out, then did a little puff of smoke thing, then greyed out, then the microwave dinged, the full moon came out from behind the clouds, I pulled off a move, and Kate kissed Jack while Sawyer was reading a book with those fruity glasses of his (or something).

Just looking at the “action bar”, you couldn’t really tell the instant when a move happened… it was all kinds of vague. They’ve fixed this, kind of. I can now see when buttons are ‘activated’ more clearly, and there’s even a kind of weird feature that I’m kind of undecided on right now. You can queue up multiple moves and let the game kind of slop them out at it’s own pace. I usually open each fight with my burglar with my two debuffs; I have a bleed over time, and a move that slows the enemy’s attacks (think: Rend and Thunderclap). I can mash these two at the same time, and it’ll apply one on the first swing, and the second one on the second swing. It doesn’t work every time, but it’s interesting that it does it even some of the time. It kind of has like a window of opportunity… if the second move is ready fast enough, it’ll do it. If not, it just bonks. I’m used to having the game complain that I’ve hit the button too early in WoW, but this is much more forgiving.

The little dotted green border means 'the move is happening now', the little(r) yellow dotted border means 'this one is gonna happen next'...
In that sense, combat feels kind of mushy. I’m used to having split second timing and instant gratitification for Gouges and Kidney Shots on my rogue in WoW. I hit the button, hear the crunch noise, and know the enemy is stunned for another 5 seconds or whatever. In LotRO, I need to keep checking the enemy’s debuff slots to see if it landed. Some of the moves have impressive flashes of light or special effects to let me know they went off, but some just look like another autoattack swing.

At this point I’m a level 13 burglar. I previously made it to about level 6 I think. I’m seeing new things that I didn’t see before, so the game is still feeling very fresh. I’m really enjoying it, and can’t wait to get home tonight to fire it up. WoW is paid out till September (damn the “3 months at a time” option!), but I honestly just don’t have any interest in playing it right now. Maybe in a month or so I’ll jump in and see what guild we merged with this time, and listen to everyone complain about warlocks for an hour.

I think I may try LotRO for a while though. I’ve got a good group of people I’m guilded with (a bunch of regulars from the Gamers with Jobs website), even if our hours don’t always line up (what else is new?). I played with Mordiceius for a good day, and we pretty much destroyed everything in our path with just him (a captain), myself (burglar), and one other pick up player (a minstrel, I think?).

The game seems pretty easy at this point, and each class I seem to come across doesn’t seem to be lacking for either heals or DPS. Mordiceius pulled about 5 bad guys at one point, and I could almost hear him yawning as he plowed thru them all. I myself have certain moves called ‘tricks’ that I can basically debuff my opponents with. The one I mentioned earlier slows their attacks (the bleed isn’t defined as a trick, per se). I can also ‘pose a riddle’ to an opponent to daze them for 30 seconds, or Addle them to where their attacks take twice as long to cast. Later I can throw dirt in someone’s eyes to reduce their hit chance. Each foe can have one active trick on them at a time. I also have a move called Mischevious Glee which allows me to remove a trick from a target, in exchange for both an instant spot heal, and an applied heal over time. Later, the numbers this hits me for might be minimal, but for now it’s like I have a druid in my pocket spamming me with Regrowths and Rejuvs. It’s obviously got a Cooldown, but it’s great in a pinch, considering I’m not a ‘healing class’.

Speaking of “hearing someone yawning”, there’s voice-chat built into the game itself. I tried to get it set up, but every single person I’ve come across flatly refuses to use it. I know it must be hard when you’ve got a whiny high pitched voice, and you’re confronted by my manly command of the language. It’s probably for the better, actually… I’m not terribly interested in discussing the finer points of Bree’s extensive history. It’s just too bad that your flimsy excuse for not downloading ventrilo is no longer valid. Oh well, there’s always “my microphone is broken” or “my sound drivers are screwed up”.


On the flipside; considering how many people are scared to make noises into the microphone, they sure do love their fruity little flutes and tambourines or whatever! I learned how to play the Star Wars Imperial Cruiser theme song on my Clarinet (DUM DUM DUM, dum de DUMM, dum de DUMM), and quit while I was ahead. I'm ashamed to say I actually spent a good 20 minutes or so memorizing it and practicing how long to hold down the keys for maximum effect. It stops people dead in their tracks when they would have otherwise just ran past me. They get all excited, whip out their banjo, and I turn and run away (lolz). I think if I could figure out “Big Pimpin” by Jay-Z, my subscription would be pretty much set in stone.

It’s fun. If you can dig up a Buddy Pass, it’s free for ten days. Give it a shot, and let me know what you think. Roll on the Land Rover server. It’s where all the cool kids play.

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