Friday, February 16, 2007

LOTR Online: initial impressions

I got an invitation to the preview period yesterday, downloaded the game this morning, and have played on and off since. The NDA was apparently lifted last week, so I'll go ahead and express my disappointment here.

I have created two characters, a human minstrel and a dwarf champion, both level 4. Many would say that this is far too soon for any sort of review, but I disagree. If a game doesn't grab me in the first hour or two, it's unreasonable to expect me to submit myself to further boredom or frustration to reach the good stuff (and the fun at the high levels doesn't matter). With how many products other than MMOGs does the developer say, "Sure, it sucks at first, but it'll grow on you"?

THE GOOD
I enjoy the moments when my character is frozen for half-a-minute as scripted events unfold before me. I was excited when my NPC companion shouted encouragement to Gimli as the hero faced a giant cave troll. I was excited when Gandalf turned the troll to stone later on. These events felt like genuine drama.

I like the various cultural backgrounds and settings offered for each race. My character isn't just a dwarf, but a dwarf of the Grey Mountains...as opposed to a dwarf of Lonely Mountain or three other options. Any extra depth the developer can offer to player characters is great.

The artistic design is plain, but impressive. There's a nice sense of scale, with a good range of elevation in the terrain. The visual customization for characters is limited, but better than WoW's.

The minstrels can apparently compose their own music (to a very limited extent). I'm not sure how legality plays into that, but it's great to see players being given a means to be so creative and productive.

THE BAD
The graphics setting automatically chosen for my computer was High. That lasted about 5-10 minutes before the first wave of horrendous lag. The lag still plagued me at Medium, so I eventually stuck with Low. Because of the graphical style (similar to WoW's), the differences between High and Low were hardly noticed. But the lesson is this: for the many gamers (unlike me) without experience in games and graphics adjustments, automatically selected settings should be more practical. Don't set the graphics based on the character selection screen; test the setting with moving objects and large render distances. The amateur gamer should rarely have to enter the Options menu.

THE UGLY
Words can't express my disappointment that MMOGs are changing so little.

Like many veteran MMO gamers, my first taste of an MMOG universe (EQ) was glorious, but MMOGs since have been less and less able to hold my interest. I've played and tested almost a dozen MMOGs (Everquest, Shadowbane, Asheron's Call 2, Star Wars: Galaxies, Wish, Horizons, Everquest 2, City of Heroes/City of Villains, World of Warcraft, Vanguard, and LOTR Online). It's come to the point that I'm no longer interested in MMOGs; at least, not until there's a revolution (not just an evolution) in core gameplay design.

The "quests" are wretched. "Go kill X number of Y to change nothing and get the same reward I gave the last guy!".

The NPCs stand like PEZ-dispensers, waiting to honor every unique savior with the same trite story and promise of grey glory. I'm reminded of The Incredibles: "when everybody's special, no one is".

The combat is boring. "Auto-attack" may not exactly be jargon for "instant win", but it's still captures the essence of the experience. So many hotbutton-skill choices! yet all just waiting for players to find the perfect sequence and apply that to every fight. The really clever games include a "match this character action to this NPC action" whack-a-mole system. Yippee.

Creature locations are neatly divided into level categories and utterly predictable. Since when is predictability attractive in adventure entertainment? Perhaps that's my mistake...to believe that true adventure was ever a goal.

SUMMARY
Notice what I'm not saying. I'm not saying that LOTR is bad as MMOGs go. I'm saying that it's MMOGs in general that are the problem.

And, of course, the problem only exists if one is concerned with game quality and not just profit from the novelty of a virtual world. It's my long experience with MMOGs that has led me to this point of disinterest. I'm sure the basic idea of a virtual world can still suck in plenty of newcomers.

Eventually, I'll probably return to the genre. In the meantime, I'm going back to single-player adventure games. I hate to speak so pessimistically about anything, but I'm not seeing many reasons to hope here.

7 comments:

  1. Hey are you aware that if i google 'lotr online sucks' it's your blog that comes up first?!!

    I think it's kinda cool because you give a good and well explained review of it.

    Cheers

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  2. Excellent review! I waited until they (finally) released a trial version and my initial impression is well summed up in what your wrote. I played two characters, a human champion to level 12 and a human captain to level 10. It's more of the same crap in a new pile. :\

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  3. I found nothing even remotely helpful about this review with respect to LOTR. When a review about a specific game eventually results in a broad critique against an entire genre of online games (MMORPGs, in this specific case), the original intent of the reviewer lacks merit.

    Saying that LOTR is just another WOW with slight difference basically tells me it is an awesome game, mainly because I enjoy playing WOW.

    It is my impression that the reviewer was looking for instant gratification in an MMORPG. There is no such thing. Unless you buy a top level toon without the experience of low-level play.

    I, too, played several other MMORPGs until I ended up playing WOW. I played Lineage (not Lineage II because there is no Mac version), Shadowbane, and EQ. Even Second Life. I prefer WoW hands down.

    So here I am trying to find useful reviews of LOTR to play on a PC and I stumble upon this lame review. Its like buying a new car and writing "automatic transmission sucks" to review a specific car.

    Not a smart review, in my honest opinion, and the reviewer should have played some more of the game to be even considered a trustworthy source. A smart reviewer can understand and even anticipate what MMORPGers are looking for in a new game.

    I personally don't like sports games. But just because I don't like them doesn't mean I can honestly try a new sports game title, play it for a couple hours, and label it as "crap".

    This review is crap. I'm regret I even spent time writing this, because I bet the reviewer won't have the guts to allow it to stay.

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  4. You're right, I was looking for instant gratification. There's a difference between enjoying yourself while struggling toward a goal and having to slave through boring content to reach the fun parts. All games should be fun right off the bat.

    Current MMOs are not designed to make players grind because that's how any MMO has to be. An MMO can be fun at the start and throughout. You're seeing MMOs only for what they have been in the past. I assure you, they can be very different. Grinding doesn't have to be essential to MMO gameplay.

    You're wrong that this review (which I clearly labelled "initial impressions" in the title) is like giving a car a bad review for having an automatic transmission. It's not like that because an automatic transmission is a good feature when it fits with particular vehicles of quality. Grinding in MMOs, on the other hand, and shoddy quest design annoy players no matter what game they're put into. I have absolutely no doubt that you, too, Guillermo, would prefer MMOs to have better-crafted quests and gameplay that doesn't feel like just going through the motions.

    For developers to continue including grinding and only the most basic, predictable quests in MMOs is like if car manufacturers continued to include only AM radio with bad reception in every car, instead of upgrading to high-quality CD players when they became available. If every car only offered the AM radio, car buyers would still be right to demand better.

    And I was thinking specifically of people who are still able to enjoy MMOs as they are now when I said "I'm not saying that LOTR is bad as MMOGs go". Compared to other current MMOs, LOTRO's pretty decent. But it's still completely deserving of criticism for not addressing the problems that plague all MMOs and are not the necessary evils that many think they are.

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  5. I agree with you 100% Aaron.

    I wasted 30.00 on this piece of crap. I have played many many many mmo's (Fiesta, FFXI, WoW, City of heroes/Villians, Silkroad, Rappelz, Mabinogi, Maple Story, Project Entropia, Second Life, Perfect World, Granado Espada, FlyFF, Anarchy Online, EvE Online, Space Cowboy, RF Online, Ragnarok, 2Moons, Lineage 2, Auto Assault, and many others i can't think of at the moment.) the only ones i have played for longer than a month are City of Heroes, and Final Fantasy XI.

    FFXI has a very different quest system, and City of has a character creation that is off the charts.

    LOTR is exactly like the "point and click" korean mmo's (similar to lineage and WoW). It is just set in a popular world. A popular world with severe net-lag.

    This game offers up nothing that WoW and L2 do not besides the story. Even the interface is exactly the same.

    It's a great game if you don't want to learn how to play something new, or if you love LOTR so much that it makes you vomit just to think about standing next to a virtual Legolas.

    If you like run of the mill quests, LOTR, muddled tutorials, and bad voice acting, then pick this or WoW up. But if you crave some depth, origionality, and creativity, stick the retail box in your ass then dance a jig.

    At least that way you can experience something new for $30.00.

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  6. JediOfTheShire12/2/07, 1:24 AM

    I agree that LOTRO is a decent game, and the reason that i play it is because i absolutely LOVE the lord of the rings. If i didn't- i wouldn't play it w/o friends on it. Too bad all of mine are still stuck to WoW...

    you're right though about MMO's being a problem. The entire genre (after everquest expansions turned it into a copycat of everything new) has turned out nothing worth spending much time fawning over.

    I'm sticking to my RTS (and LOTRO, but just 'cause it's LOTR!) ty.

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  7. Also consider LOTR has no support to speak of outside the game. It's mostly in the form of FAQ's and actual live people are impossible to locate.

    Imagine you are having trouble getting the game installed. You are screwed if the reason is not covered in the FAQ's.

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