It isn't as epic as the movie trilogy was, but The Lord of the Rings Online is still a great and addictive MMORPG.
This game offers you a choice of four races (Man, Elf, Dwarf and Hobbit); each of these can be male or female - with the exception of the Dwarves, who can only be male. All of the races have stat bonuses and penalties, as well as other characteristics. However the most prominent feature of each race is its distinctive appearance (choice of hairstyles, faces & other details). Elves are the tallest, followed by Men who are only but a little shorter, then the Dwarves who are about half the average height and lastly, the Hobbits (or Halflings) - the smallest of the four. Once you choose your race you must select one of seven playable classes. These are: Burglar (rogue/CC class), Captain (debuffer/healer), Champion (melee DPS), Guardian (tank), Hunter (ranged DPS), Lore-master (debuffer/CC) and Minstrel (healer and buffer). Each of these classes plays very differently and has a role that can be fulfilled when playing in a Fellowship (party) with other players, just like in other MMOs. There are also two other classes, which are Rune-keeper and Warden, that can be unlocked by buying the "Mines of Moria" expansion.
Once you have picked a race, gender and class for your character, you will advance to the next step of character creation. Here you will have to design you character's looks. First you must select where your character comes from, for example: Men can select Gondor, Rohan etc. while Hobbits can choose the Shire, Bree and others. Your choice affects what eye and skin colours become available. Other than that, you have a selection of some faces and hair styles (Humans and Dwarves also get facial hair, but Hobbits and Elves can choose other details instead) and a "body fullness" slider that affects the physical appearance of your body, but does not affect your character's face. Then all that is left is naming your character. To make that easier, the game even gives you some naming guidelines which differ depending on which background you chose.
As you progress through the game and your character levels up, new features will gradually become available to you. Features such as: new class-specific skills and passive abilities, more equipment to use, additional quests, crafting abilities, mounts etc. Speaking of which, mounts are one of the bad things about Lord of the Rings Online. While they do speed up travelling and can look pretty cool, they are ridiculously slow when compared to games like Red Dead Redemption. Of course horse-riding is a big part of RDR, while it is only one of many features for LOTRO; it still seems that the mounts are very limited for this game. Another issue that I have with them is the animation. Men and Elves can ride horses. The horse animations are not too bad, but they are noticeably worse and much stiffer when compared to the superior animations of ponies, mounts that can be utilized by Hobbits and Dwarves.
Turbine Points are a big part of LOTRO. They are a currency that can be spent in the LOTRO Store. The store is a place where players who play for free can remove many of the restrictions that subscribers are free from. All players can also buy cosmetic equipment for their characters, additional character slots per server, legendary items plus other objects/services. The only requirement for getting a mount in Lord of the Rings Online is the Horse-riding skill. Sadly, this has to be bought using Turbine Points in the LOTRO Store. Turbine Points can be bought using real money, or earned through completing deeds. These deeds are sort of like quests, but they are always active and some of them give you titles after completion. Deeds can be anything from slaying a number of beasts or completing a number of quests in specific locations, or landing this or that type of attack on enemies this many times.
It is good that Turbine Points can be earned through simple gameplay, rather than there being only one way of obtaining them. But it's also ridiculous that some members will have mounts after days of playing, earned through hard-work while others just buy them with real money and can obtain them much earlier. What bothers me even more is the amount of restrictions for those who play for free. Players (who use free-to-play accounts) can create only two characters per server, have just three storage bags and can carry a maximum of only two golden coins at one time. Subscribers get five character slots for each server, receive four inventory bags instead of three and can carry as much money as they want with them at all times. And these are only just a few examples. Of course all of this isn't that bad when compared to other MMORPGs with optional subscriptions, and if you are planning on paying to play the game then you will be happy to know that there will be plenty of advantages and bonuses for you. If not, then you may be disappointed.
The story is based on J.R.R Tolkien's famous "The Lord of the Rings" books, advancing through the storylines of 'Fellowship of the Ring', the 'Two Towers' and 'Return of the King' with each new expansion. The main quest (also referred to as the epic quest) is structured in volumes of books and chapters. Each book will usually take you to a new location on the enormous map of the whole game, but first you will have to get through its chapters. Surprisingly, the story behind the epic quest is good enough to keep you interested with many quests that take you to "instances" of specific areas, which are zones created just for parts of the main quest where other players are not visible and the weather as well as time of day may be different, for the purpose of the task. When this happens, the game gets very interesting and quite atmospheric. In addition to the epic quest, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of side quests for each area which may or may not be connected to the main storyline in any way. Some of the beginner quests in the Shire are especially unique and offer a nice change from fighting, giving you simple tasks to help the Shire folk, which involve many normal everyday activities.
Visually, The Lord of the Rings Online is exceptionally good for a 2007 MMO. The environments are varied; you will find all sorts of landscapes in this game. Each area on the map has different plant life, inhabitants and architecture. It is obvious that a great amount of effort was put into detail. The art style does not resemble that of the LotR movies filmed by Peter Jackson, as it is based solely on the books. This may be good for some, especially those who have not seen the movies and just read the books or didn't like Peter Jackson's vision of Middle-earth. But those who have seen and liked the movie trilogy may not be as satisfied with the game because it might not feel like Lord of the Rings for them.
Despite of not appealing to both fan audiences equally, the game does well to show the beauty of Tolkien's realm in its own unique way. The visual style is much more fantasy than it was shown in the movies, but simply the best and most atmospheric part of LOTRO has got to be the sound. The sound effects are good - and while there isn't much voice acting, when you do hear it (especially from major characters) it's very good! The music is fantastic. It makes you feel like you are about to jump on your trusty steed and set out on another adventure, with a bard playing something epic in the background. Some of the areas in the game even get their own soundtracks and those are usually the ones that stand out and steal the show.
+ All the basic features of an MMORPG (groups, guilds, mounts, duelling, skirmishes etc.) are here
+ Traditional and unoriginal but very addictive gameplay formula
+ Each race and class feels unique and has advantages that others lack
+ A decent amount of character customization available, especially between races
+ Interesting main quest with a decent story and some great "instance" missions
+ Great audio, with fantastic musical pieces and good sound effects
+ The art style is original, well-designed and well-realised
+ Very large map size with plenty of environmental variety
+ While there is not a lot of it, most of the voice-acting is good
+ Quite a lot of fairly interesting side quests for an MMORPG
+ Creates a good LotR atmosphere, immerses the player through gameplay and music
- The idea of having to "buy" a riding skill in order to get a mount is ridiculous
- Various restrictions for free-to-play accounts will put many players off
- The art style may not feel enough like LotR for those who loved Peter Jackson's movies
- Occasional bugs and glitches will not stop you from playing, but they are annoying
- Stiff animations for horses (not very fair on Human/Elven players)
- MMO addicts will not be happy about the lack of PVP gameplay, though I don't think it's such a big deal
- Travelling from one objective to another takes a lot of time due to slow mounts
- Nothing very original about it, especially in terms of gameplay
- Can be quite frustrating at times
- Inventory space problems happen almost too often for anybody's liking
- Random connection problems, though not too often, are a minor annoyance
In the end, The Lord of the Rings is not perfect and has a few problems. But the pros outweigh the cons. The experience isn't very original, but it is much more atmospheric than many other MMOs and just as addicting as World of Warcraft can be for some people. The Lord of the Rings Online is epic at times, but other than then, it is not as epic as the movies were… at least for me. Still, it is a great game (even if its greatness costs you some frustration) and I think it's a love or hate type of game for most people.