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"?
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 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.
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.
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.