February 13th, 2007
My review of Lord of the Rings online: Beta 2.
Yesterday, they loosened the confidentiality agreement and we are allowed to discuss the beta version of Lord of the Rings online (LoTRo). Actually, this is beta number 2. Thank you danicia, for posting the link to the beta sign-up.
After my disastrous 10-day World of Warcraft (WoW) trial, my first impression of LoTRo was that it was a WoW clone that had better, more realistic graphics. You still had the small little map in the corner that didn't show nearly enough. You still had "go kill x thingy" kind of quests, or "go and bring back x amount of auroch meat for the larder" kind of quests to start with. And initially, I got quite lost easily. But there were some nice surprises that makes LoTRo much better and more fun than WoW in my opinion. Although I'm not sure if it is superior to City of Heroes. I have to say that it is the most beautiful game I've seen yet. You have weather and the climate changes depending on where you are. And you can watch the climate transition from one area to the next. Very realistic. The water is especially well done. It is really neat to be in a field of flowers and plants and notice that the plants are moving as if by a breeze. I can't say enough about the level of graphics and the sheer beauty and grandeur of some of the settings. I've heard that day lasts an hour and night an hour and a half. The stars are really amazing, as is the moon. In City of Heroes, by comparison, day and night are roughly 20 minutes apiece.
First the character generation system is superier to WoW in almost every way. You could choose between being a human, dwarf, elf or hobbit. You had control over body type, types of faces and even things like eyebrows and mouth shapes. You were able to change hair style with a choice of 5-8 different styles. You can even play with eye color and hair color. The first character I made was a female elf Champion from Lorien. You got to change where they came from, which influenced eye, and hair color. Still no way to change the color of your beginning outfit though. Champions are the high damage melee persons. Guardians are the tanks, Loremasters are mob control and then there are the archers for ranged attacks. There are also minstrels which are the healers. There is also a burglar class. The second character I made was a male elf Guardian.
There is an intro section that acts as a tutorial and you meet Elrond briefly. This gets you familiar with how the game is run. Then you go to an isolated beginner area. This is strange, because once you get out of the beginner area, you can return to the same locations in the real game, but of course, it is not the same beginner area. So you start out in some weird pocket alternate universe. This had some typical WoW type quests, but it had a few interesting ones like search goblin bodies in a mine for clues. The mine was instanced. You end up meeting Elrond's sons, Elladan and Elrohir.
Then once you finished all the possible quests and are around level 6, there is a final quest that leads you through caverns inside a mountain to save Elladan and gives you a tease as to the big bad guys in the game. At the end of this quest you end up at the normal starting point of the game. I'm not sure why they have a separate map for low level characters, other than to limit their scope of the map until they get familiar with the whole game, then they turn them loose into regular play. Before Beta 2 you could skip the beginning section which was bad because all the things you had to fight were level 6 or higher and you were stuck at level 1. Now, you have no choice but to go through the beginning section. I think that this is not a bad thing.
This really neat thing about the game is running around and seeing places mentioned in the books and meeting people from the books. I found Tom Bombadil which was really neat. You can go to Bag End and get a quest from Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. By Hobbiton you can see Ted Sandyman by the mill. You can go to Bree and meet Barlyman in the Prancing Pony. In Rivendell you can see Aragorn, and apparently Elrond and Gandalf, but I didn't see them when I was there. You can even go to Weather Top.
The type of quests are much more varied than what I saw in WoW, and in some cases, more so than CoH. There is a quest where you need to cleanse a ruin by pouring a potion at two locations, quests where you collect grapes to make wine and empty wine flasks to put it in. In the shire you can do postal runs where you take a satchel of mail and have a limited time to get it to the next postal drop point without being spotted by nosey hobbits. If you are spotted, you lose the satchel and have to start over. You can also collect chickens for a hobbit woman. In Breeland, there is a designated game area where you could play Tag with other players. There was a quest where you walked a mother lynx and had to protect her from harm. Then you had to go and find her cub. So you can do things other than just killing things to get xp. There are pretty big xp for finishing quests, so you can decide if you want to do non combat quests or run around killing random monsters.
One very interesting quest took place in the Old Forest. You had to find a spring of fresh water for a camp and bring the water back. Inside the Old forest there were wolves, spiders, bat like things and these creeper vines that attacked you. I fought one and immediately found out that they were attached to Huorns; walking trees! Very tough walking trees! It was quite an experience to be chased by trees intent on killing me. When I finally found the spring, with Goldberry, Tom Bombadil's wife, I found out that I only had a limited time to get back out and bring the water to the camp. The forest is very confusing and it took quite a few tries to get it. You basically had to grab the water in a bucket and run the gauntlet back to the camp and hope you didn't die before you got there.The variety of types of quests was very refreshing.
I got a chance to try my hand at crafting. You get a profession which has three inherent craft skills. I ended up as an armorer, which included prospecting, metalworking and tailor. I was originally a historian which has scholarship, weaponsmithing and farming. You are still dependent on other professions for base materials. Light boiled leather is created by someone with woodworking skill and is needed to make armor. Tailors can't make it. You almost have to create several alts to get the base materials and then use the mail system to send the materials to all your alts. The mail system is really cool. I don't think you can send yourself stuff like that in CoH. You have to rely on someone else to act as a go-between. Anyway, I used the mail system to transfer bronze ingots from the female elf armorer to a male elf alt who was a historian. So my female elf attacks every mineral deposit she finds and the male elf searches ruins for scholarly stuff and farms pipe weed and strawberries. So far the female character has made a suit of heavy armor and a set of heavy leggings. The male character has made a bunch of heavy maces. One of which he uses in combat. The rest were sold. Other professions were forester, explorer, yeoman, tinker.
A note on farming. This is one of the best and perhaps most unique crafts. You go to fields, buy seeds, water and fertilizer and plant and then harvest. You can end up with poor quality plants that only produce seeds, or fair quality plants that can be made into good quality crops, or both. You then take these plants to a worktable and make them into seeds and good quality crops. You re-plant the seeds and sell the good quality crops. You usually end up with more seeds than you started with and after some initial investment for water and fertilizer you can make lots of money. When you master a tier, you can use a master level trick to help with success. For farming this means a lot more output and more of the good quality stuff you can sell. Money is 100 coppers per silver and 1500 silvers per gold. As a level 9 character, I had mastered the third tier and was able to make 1000 silver without too much effort. Right now, I'm on my way to mastering the fourth tier and am still 9th level. There are 5 tiers to each craft. On the forums, it was calculated you can make up to 600 silver per hour at master level of the 5th tier. Everything you need, you can buy right next to the fields. You don't have to wander around prospecting or hunting animals for hides or what not. You can just be a farmer. Finally, a game that has farming cash by actually farming. Other crafts have craft quests at certain levels, but not farming. It's just a matter of money and time. And not even too much money as you are growing money, so to speak, as you work.
Another interesting thing was when I ran my level 13 female elf character all the way to Rivendell. That was fraught with danger as I was moving through areas that had much higher level creatures. And I was passing all sorts of cool ore that I didn't have skill to prospect. At one point the path, one that had high cliffs on either side, had a level 37 or higher troll moving up and down the trail. I followed it with no real place to hide if it caught me. It got to the end of the narrow area and turned around. I backed up and kept out of sight. Then after a while, it went back up the trail. I was lucky that at the end, he moved far enough away from the cliffs so that I could sneak off to the side and hide while it went back down the trail. This was at night and I wonder what would have happened if it got hit by sunlight.
Anyway, I managed to make it to Rivendell. Man, that is one beautiful place. Absolutely breathtaking. Worth the cost of the game just to hang out there. There, I saw a hobbit name Frodo standing by some stairs. He was an NPC and didn't interact with you. Strangely, if you went up the stairs and went to the left, you met another hobbit named Frodo Baggins. When you got close to him, your dread rating went up. I've heard people explain that this was because of the proximity of the One Ring. Maybe the other hobbit was supposed to be Bilbo? It really is a beautiful place though. Very well done.
A note on travel and directions. While the little in-game map is not that good, it does show you points of interest, such as merchants, trainers, and craft places. It also shows you all potential quest givers. If you have mineral or wood tracking it will show you mineral or wood deposits as well. Very handy. Travel is mostly by foot, although at various locations they have stables set up . For a fee, you can rent a horse to quickly take you to another set of stables elsewhere. However, you can only go to stables you have actually visited before. The only exception I've seen are in two stables that allow you to go to stables in places you have not been to before. But the costs are usually prohibitive for the beginner character. Up to 30 silver in some cases. Price is dependent on distance. Right now, the horses are a bit bugged and occasionally you will see a rider moving along, but no horse. Sometimes the horses go off road. Normally they stick to the road. The horses can take you to different zones as well. Ered Luin is a separate zone from the Shire which is a different zone from Breeland, etc. Crossing these zone boundaries brings up the load screen.
I had mentioned that WoW turned me off because it made me feel lost all the time. It LoTRo, there are sign posts at each crossroad pointing you to different towns and areas. So the lost factor is minimized. Plus there is a larger map you can toggle and takes up the whole screen that shows you where you are in relation to the larger area. This is helpful as well. Eventually you run around enough doing quests that you get a feel for the area. Maybe this is the case with WoW, but I never got there with my level 6 sorceress. I got there fairly quickly with my level 2 champion in LoTRo. However the elf towns in Ered Luin are configured very weirdly and I still get lost in them. I still say that the game would benefit hugely by adding waypoints. I'm a big fan of waypoints.
You only have access to the Eriador Region, so from Ered Luin (Blue Mountans) in the east to Rivendell in the west, but no further south than the Shire. Eventually you will get to go to other places, but I'm sure that is for ether expansions, or for when the game goes live in March. You may be able to get to the Grey Havens now, but I think you have to pass through an unfriendly town to get there and I've not tried it yet. There are a couple cities run by bad guys. You can go north to Angmar, which is the home of the Witch-King. There is even a PvP place with heroes pitted against monsters. When you reach level 10 you can go to Bree and look into a special reflecting pool and create a monster PvP character. When you get to a high level you will be able to take your hero character there to battle other people's monsters. I can't remember all the types of monsters, but you can be a spider. I remember that one. Maybe you can be a troll as well. I'm interested in how they make Gondor, Moria and Lothlorien.
In terms of magic, this is not well developed. But then, look at the books. Gandalf was one of the most powerful wizards and we didn't see a lot of flashy magic at all. So magic will be low key. The loremasters and minstrals will be the closest to magic users, I think.
Regarding teams, I'm not sure I like it much. In the first team I was in, it was hard to know what was going on in terms of the active quest. And in the getting water from the Old Forest quest, I was teamed with someone else, but in the end, we basically did it separately anyway. We kept getting separated by being killed, etc. So for that, being on a team was worthless. In City of Heroes, I would have at least shared in xp if he had killed something, even if we were separated. You can share your quests, but I'm not sure what that means.
This brings up the whole social aspect. I must say that I generally feel rather alone, and that is not something I notice in City of Heroes. The little word balloons, though rather hokey, go a long way to make you feel part of a conversation and not just looking at your chat window. You can read the word balloons to see what the person next to you is saying. It makes you really feel a lot more part of a community, rather than just a bunch of loners who happen to be in the same place at the same time. The dancing is a bit more involved that both CoH and WoW. With WoW, each race has only one kind of dance, based on gender. CoH has 5-6 different dance moves that anyone can use, but generally your feet don't move. LoTRo has 3 different dance moves but they don't last too long though. But at least your feet move in two of them. Still... you have to like the elf female slut dance in WoW.
Overall, the game is better, in my opinion that WoW although it's not perfect. But they have made a great start. I feel that if you like WoW, you will love Lord of the Rings Online. Especially if you are a Lord of the Rings fan.