Age Of Conan If I Buy A In-Game Story Mount LotRO Review – From a Gamer Looking For a Home

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LotRO Review – From a Gamer Looking For a Home

I “discovered” MMO’s during the Star Wars: Galaxies Pre-NGE days and fell in love with them. Not only from a gameplay/immersion level, but for some reason I’m fascinated with the inner-workings and behind-the-scenes stuff and I have an insatiable curiosity to see what each new MMO offers and how different ideas are implemented in each game.

Over the years I’ve tried just about everything that’s hit the store shelves. I’ve dabbled in the City of Franchise, Everquest 2, Age of Conan, Warhammer online, Vanguard and just about everything else that’s been released since mid-2004. I’ve spent the majority of my time in WoW not because it’s the best game ever released but for some reason it’s been the one game that offered enough to keep me captivated more than any other game.

I consider myself a casual gamer, although I spend more time online than most hardcore players and I thrive on the challenges of beating any content that a developer can throw at me. I’ve spent my days in high-end 10/25/40-man raids and I’ve also spent them with plenty of reputation grinds and small-group content in all of the games I’ve played. After 5 years WoW has finally lost it’s luster, and I’ve been desperately searching for something that offers the depth and complexity that I expect from these games to hold me over until the “next big thing” is released.

In the interest of full disclosure I was first introduced to LotRO back when Ten Ton Hammer got me a beta key (thanks guys!) but I was quick to write it off as another “WoW clone” that was short on content and didn’t offer enough new features to pique my interest. The IP was so restricted by the licensing that I didn’t have much faith that they could tell a decent story, the classes seemed bland and non-descript and the graphics didn’t impress me, so using the 3-strikes rule I quickly moved on to other adventures in other games.

Fast-Forward 2 years and for some reason I bought the Mines of Moria expansion when it was released last November, and although I didn’t immediately fire it up it’s been sitting on my shelf for a few months until I just didn’t have any other options. I re-activated my account about a month ago and I can say at the least that I’ve been pleasantly surprised. This review is not meant to be objective and un-biased, but rather my feelings about the game as I’ve grown to respect it on it’s own merit and not just another WoW clone. I’ve decided to break this review into 5 categories, each with an individual rating:





The 20 level test


When I originally loaded this game on release day I wasn’t very impressed with the graphics. The starter zones for the Dwarves is a generic snow-covered zone and the starter zone for Men/Hobbits was a generic grassy area. To this day it has not changed.

What I did not understand back then was that this was just the tip of the iceberg. Maybe Turbine, as a business decision, decided to tone down the graphics in the starter areas to prevent lag for new players but as I’ve gotten out of the starter zones and seen the world-at-large I’ve become extremely impressed with what LotRO has to offer me visually. The landscapes may not be radically different and I may not see crazy landscapes that don’t exist within middle-earth, but they’ve added a lot of detail to every zone and made it not only distinct but also very beautiful to look at and spend time in.

Looking at the Aurora Borealis-type effects in Forochel, the swaying fields of flowers in North Downs or the creepy rock-like structures in Angmar the scenery meshes very well with the game itself and the story you are participating in. DX10 has been added to the game since launch and even though I can run it in DX10 I’ve found that the graphics are not lacking even in DX9!

And the graphics in the open world are only second to their interior landscapes. All of the solo/small-group/full-group/raid dungeons have been hand-crafted with very little re-used art. They are truly a sight to behold! The sad thing about the graphics is… players will never get to see what Turbine can do if they never make it past the starter zones.

The Character models seem a little stiff at first, but I’ve never seen a game that’s been able to provide a realistic atmosphere without this problem. Stiff character models are short-lived, however, because once you get some armor on your toons it seems to become much less noticeable.

All in all this is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen, coming in at a close second to games like Age of Conan (that game was beautiful… bug-ridden but beautiful).

Graphics: 4 Stars (out of 5).


Combat is the life-blood of an MMO. After all, we spend most of our time fighting monsters and evil-doers, so if we can’t enjoy the combat then we won’t enjoy the game.

Combat in LotRO doesn’t deviate much from the standard MMO… you have hotbars with actions slotted that each have varying cooldowns. You can auto-attack between using your special abilities until the mob is dead.

Where LotRO did tweak the combat is rather subtle. By using longer cooldowns and the ability to queue up your next move they have made the combat a little more “mushy” as opposed to a more crisp and clean combat such as what you would find in WoW.

At first this was a turn-off; I didn’t feel like my characters were very responsive when fighting. As I’ve played the game I’ve come to appreciate what they’ve done, as the LotRO combat system forces the player to rely more on strategy and less on button-mashing. Fast-paced it is not, but it is definitely more strategic than a lot of other games out there. Unfortunately this is a very subtle difference from what most players would expect, and anyone that doesn’t make it out of the starter zones may not realize that this type of combat was by design and not poor coding.

Combat/Gameplay: 3 Stars (out of 5)


This is where LotRO really shines. Make no mistake that LotRO is first and foremost a story-driven MMO. They have a story to tell and they’ve done a fabulous job of integrating that story into every player’s world in the form of an epic questline.

As everyone is leveling up they will meet specific NPC’s that will offer epic quests. This does not necessarily mean that the quests are more difficult than normal quests, but it does mean that it’s part of the main storyline. It gives you a sense of belonging in the world of Middle-Earth, it gives you a reason to do the things you do.

For those of you familiar with the books and movies you are NOT a part of the fellowship, but rather the supporting cast. You are always 2 steps behind Frodo and his companions as they trek towards Mount Doom and your job is to rally the forces of the free people in the preparation for war. Through very clever use of the Epic questline as well as cutscenes you are able to keep track of the fellowship (as well as where you are at within the timeline of the books) but this also gives the developers enough freedom to send you places that the fellowship did not participate in and fight monsters that the fellowship did not see.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of “Kill XXX bears/boars/birds/cats” quests, but that’s pretty much a staple of every MMO. Another crutch that Turbine has relied on is using travel as a timesink. Too many times you are given a quest in one city that requires you to go get materials from an NPC in another city (forcing you to run long distances), only to have to run back and deliver the materials to the original NPC who will then make an item you need to go out and kill some mob on the opposite side of the zone. There have been times when I have done non-stop running for over an hour straight just to finish a single quest chain, and that can get old real quick.

LotRO does offer a nice variety of content for all the different playstyles. Whether you prefer to solo, participate in small group content with 1-2 buddies or even run full-group content and raids there is plenty to keep you busy as you level. I’ve pretty much solo’d my way to the last 10 levels only grouping as necessary for the epic questline, but I’ve come across many others that have grouped exclusively preferring to never solo. As for end-game raiding, if that’s your preference, they have that too. They may not have as much of it as some other games, but one of the fallacies I’ve had to overcome is that Small quantity does not equal poor quality. From all accounts (even though I’ve never directly participated in them) the raids are every bit as challenging as you would expect them to be from other games… including a new 6-boss tiered progression raid dungeon being added in the next content patch.

Questing/Leveling: 4 Stars* (out of 5)

*The questing system is pretty standard, but the Epic Questline adds a new dynamic and gives you a purpose for being in Middle-Earth, hence the reason I gave it 4 stars versus 3.


This is another subtle part of the game but, to me, it’s become one of the best things. Too many times in other MMOs people seem to be oddly placed in the world and they don’t do much besides stand around waiting to give you a quest. You run up to them, get the quest and go on with your life, but the rest of the time they might as well be furniture.

In LotRO this is very seldom an issue. When you run into town people are doing things! The guy that asked you to go collect wood for him… that’s because he’s chopping wood when you run into him. That girl that needs wolf-meat or boar-flanks… well she’s standing over a cooking pot and she’s making food! For the most part the towns seem “alive” with NPC activity and it gives you the feeling that it doesn’t exist solely to give you mundane tasks and help you level. Towns are not always easy to get to, but that’s because Middle-Earth is a dangerous place and they’re locked away inside a cave for safety.

Out in the open world it doesn’t stop, either. You will see cats and wolves chasing rabbits as you run past them, and sentient NPC’s seem to have a purpose for being where they’re at as opposed to standing around just waiting for the hapless traveller to stumble in and kill them.

One of the best things that has repeatedly put a smile on my face is the death animations. Turbine has added a “death animation” to every different type of mob, and it is well done. Mobs don’t just fall over dead and hand you their loot when you kill them… they usually have a short, well-designed death animation that adds a little satisfaction to the kill. Bears will stand on their haunches and let out one last roar as you stick your dagger in their chest for the killing blow… orcs will actually clutch their chest and sag to the ground instead of just rolling over. More than once I’ve caught myself saying “ooh, there’s a new mob type, let’s kill it and see how it dies!”

Not all NPC’s fit the above description, but a large majority of them do, and it adds a lot to the immersion of the game.

Ambience/Atmosphere: 5 Stars (out of 5).

The 20 level test:

Most games use the starter levels, or newbie zones, to “hook” players. To throw the best at them and convince wary players to give up their credit cards for a subscription, when the rest of the game is a shell of what the first few levels are (I’m looking at you Age of Conan!). Too often the first 20 levels of an MMO are a completely different game than the last 20 levels. LotRO is no different, but they’ve got the formula backwards.

The starter zones in LotRO seem dull and bland and the game doesn’t fully materialize until the later levels. Plastic scenery and dull tutorials give way to well-designed zones and tough solo/small-group/group content that can be a challenge to even the most skilled players. If I’d have quit playing LotRO at level 20 I most likely would have written it off as “just another WoW Clone” but now that I’ve invested my time in it and gotten past that I’ve found that it is generally a very solid game that has more to offer than the box suggests and other than the fantasy setting and the MMO genre very little in common with that other MMO.

Final Word:

In my circle LotRO has become known as “the ultimate MMO for casual players”, and I’ve found that to be a huge mistake. While LotRO does offer a lot of avenues for casual players and roleplayers alike to enjoy the game they also offer plenty of challenging content and even the occasional grind (reputations, traits and deeds) for those of us that have other ambitions besides standing around smoking pipe-weed all day while we show off our housing decorations.

Overal Game Score: 4 Stars (out of 5).

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