Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Welcome to the New LotRO, Same as the Old LotRO

So there’s another welcome back week going on for Lord of the Rings Online, and I’m actually not out skiing this time. So after a nice 9 GB download over the weekend and then some patching on Monday my account was actually reactivated for a week for free. I played LotRO in beta and then a little bit after launch but haven’t touched it in three years. From reading various other blogs I did get quite curious about how the game has changed since I last saw it, making this welcome back week a welcome offer. But where are all those changes I have been reading about?

My level 34 Minstrel next to her trainer. Four action bars and 10 activated abilities not yet learned.

At first I planned to play my old Minstrel again, but there were quite a few hurdles to overcome for that. First of all I had to find her again. The server selection in the launcher does not tell you whether you have characters on that server or not, so I had to check through them until I found the right one. That wouldn’t be all that bad if LotRO didn’t still have the clear separation between the launcher and the game. You select a server in the launcher and then load up the game engine, intro videos and all, and only then you get to see whether you have any character on that server. But interface issues aside, I finally found my Minstrel at some point, logged in, and was completely lost.

The character already had a ton of abilities at the low level of thirty  which seemed reasonable to me when playing the character from the ground up, but after a three year break I had no idea how to play the character. Also I had no idea of the geography anymore or the storyline or how to group or… Well, you get the idea. Essentially I felt as if I just ebayed my character and that’s not a place I want to be in. The solution was of course to screw all that and start a new character. Didn’t I read something about the starting experiences being reworked and new classes being added?

This new Runekeeper sounds interesting, why don’t I try that one? Nuh-uh says the game, apparently I need an expansion to play that. Surely it would have been a good idea to hook me with a free week of runekeeping to then make me both buy the expansion and resubscribe? Instead I had to settle for something old instead. And old it was.

The Runekeeper class sure looks cool, shame I'm not allowed to try it out.

My guardian (level 15 now) played suitably generic with many abilities feeling exactly as if I was playing World of Warcraft. The only changes to the starting experience that I managed to discover were that everything seemed a lot easier than when I first played the game and that there now was an in-game quest guide, telling me where to go next. These might also have been there three years ago, as I said my memory is a bit fuzzy. Either way, I got to simply mow through a ton of generic monsters, guided by a quest-helper-esque arrow. Just as if I was playing WoW. Only that the quest helper thingy is the worst implementation of it I’ve seen in a while. It doesn’t really give you the ability to plan routes but only guides you to the nearest quest objective and it simply doesn’t work for some quests. Now, apparently you are supposed to care for the lore in LotRO – but the normal quest texts are just as bad as in other MMOs – absolutely not worth reading. The main quest’s story is nice, but the gameplay pretty generic as well.

There are some things in the game that I still like, such as the deed system, rare crafting ingredients, and the potential for critical crafting results. I could really imagine having fun with those, if only the game hadn’t stayed a carbon copy of WoW. Now, I know there are quite a few features that I simply don’t have access to. There’s player housing now, a system of legendary weapons, and of course the two new classes. Alas, this welcome back week won’t be able to show me any of those really. How is that supposed to hook me? I’m checking back to see if the game got better since I left (and I did leave for a reason). If you just show me the same game again after I’ve seen countless more advanced MMOs since, how do you plan to get me back to playing?

Having experienced all this, I can really get behind Blizzard revamping their newbie experience. You can’t just keep adding the nice new stuff to the end of the game. Beginners and returning players will see the marks of time as well and will quit your game if you don’t deliver.

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