written by Blain Newport on Sunday, February 14, 2010
They handed out free copies of Lord of the Rings Online (LotRO) at PAX. I'm normally not big into MMOs, but I figured I should at least give it a look.
Most of the time I spent playing World of Warcraft was on a low population server as the low population faction. I've seen more people idling outside the bank on that server than I've seen in the entirety of my four days or so in LotRO. Maybe it's just the server I chose, but the game feels like a wasteland.
Don't get me wrong, I like a good wasteland. When you're a hobbit sneaking into a giant spider lair, the last thing you want to see are thirteen other adventurers marching through. It's bad for atmosphere.
On the subject of sneaking, the stealth mechanics are surprisingly good for an MMO. If an enemy notices you, they turn. If you hold perfectly still (and aren't too close), they go back to what they were doing. Plus you eventually unlock a distract action that forces them to turn around for a backstab. Pickpocketing humanoid enemies can actually turn up useful equipment, as well. The thief actually feels like a thief instead of just plain DPS.
The game also has a mechanic whereby you earn tokens to improve certain attributes. There are Virtue, Race, and Class tokens. I'm not so keen on the first two. The things you do to earn them are often nonsensical. You only have to check out a virtue calculator to see how overly complicated keeping track of and earning virtue tokens can be. The race ones seem pretty similar. But the class tokens are mostly rewards for using your skills. If I use a skill enough, I earn a class token that lets me improve its effectiveness. In some cases this is a tiny DPS buff, but in others it's a large DPS buff, crit bonus, or reduction of a cooldown. It encourages me to play like a thief, which is nice.
Crafting on a low population server is generally a waste of time. You can't even auction recipes unless they're for purple quality gear. I've never seen so many auctions with zero bids on them in my life.
Aside from being useless (thus far) crafting is amazingly time consuming and involves watching a lot of progress bars. Free Realms raised the bar on crafting and neither LotRO nor World of Warcraft have kept up. The best thing I can say about crafting in LotRO is that the game handles tabbing out to a web browser very well.
It's probably my own fault for choosing the farming / cooking profession. With so few people around and so many resource nodes untapped weaponsmithing probably would have been more practical. I could be stabbing people with homemade daggers. :P
I enjoy the gameplay (at least as a solo thief) better than WoW. It's not enough to make me fork over a subscription fee, but I've never been an MMO (or subscription) fan.