With their Riders of Rohan expansion due for release in October, and with it being the first of my recommendations of free-to-play games on Steam, I thought it would be appropriate to take a deeper look at Turbine’s Lord of the Rings: Online. This game is one of, if not the most popular free-to-play MMO’s available today, and for good reason. I felt like the sole paragraph I gave it in “Best of Steam’s Freebies” did not do it justice. So let’s muster the Rohirrim, cultivate some Longbottom Leaf, and go explore Middle-earth.
When creating a character you have four choices of race and nine (as in nine rings for the race of Men) classes to choose from. Two of the classes, which are the Rune-keeper and the Warden, must be purchased from the Turbine store using Turbine points, but we’ll talk about the in-game store and Turbine’s currency system later. You can only create two characters per server with a free account, but there are a decent amount of different servers, so you won’t be robbed of the opportunity to create new adventurers. After deciding between playing as a Man, Dwarf, Elf, or Hobbit, each with its own advantages and disadvantages, you pick a class from the following:
- Burglar: a support class specializing in debuffing and using his stealth skills.
- Captain: another support class who aids his allies while also being a respectable melee fighter.
- Champion: gets up close and deals as much damage as possible.
- Guardian: very useful as tanks, they soak up damage and try to draw as much attention to themselves as possible.
- Hunter: long range damage, very skilled with bows and at dual-wielding if enemies get too close.
- Lore-master: LOTRO’s form of the mage, excellent at crowd control, can also support allies and debuff foes.
- Minstrel: top-notch healing and support class, and also excellent musicians.
- Rune-keeper (when unlocked): excellent at either excessive damage or healing, depending on the situation.
- Warden (when unlocked): another tank option, but they get to use javelins and rely on stringing together combos.
I play on the Riddermark server mostly, because it sounds cool and it’s easy to remember, and I play as either a Man Captain, which sounds really strange, so let’s just call him a Captain of Men, and also an elf hunter. If you’re new to MMO’s, then I would recommend playing as the hunter, the champion, or the guardian, because they have pretty simple move sets, and are easy to use and level. But once you’ve picked your class, then you generate your looks, your name, and your origin (depending on your race), and are then whisked away to Tolkien-land.
The game will begin with a solo instance/tutorial that explains how to play the game, as well as set up your character’s main storyline that you follow throughout the game. I love MMO’s like this and Star Wars: The Old Republic that have an epic story that guides you throughout the game. One of the big reasons the original Knights of the Old Republic is at the top of my best Star Wars games list, and at the top of my personal all-time favorite games list, is because of its excellent storytelling. And as you’ve noticed, I will always look for an excuse to mention KOTOR no matter what I’m writing about. Anyway, after the controls and story have been introduced, the game takes you to your starting zone. There are two of these zones, one the hobbits share with men a mile or so away from Bree, and another shared between dwarves and elves, a spot in the mountains called Thorin’s Gate. After some introductory quests, and then some prologue quests, it’s time for you to leave low-level land behind and continue your adventure out in the real world. Well, the fictional, fantasy real world.
So let’s look at some important and interesting gameplay mechanics that you can make use of during your travels. The first one is deeds, which are kind of like achievements you’d see in World of Warcraft. These deeds are like side quests that you don’t have to turn into an NPC, and are all kept in a log that allows you to track individual ones on your quest tracker. These deeds range from exploration, to killing certain types of enemies, to PvP combat, to completing instances, to using certain abilities, to building reputations to so much more. These deeds reward experience, as well as titles and Turbine points. Titles are pretty self-explanatory, as they’re cool add-ons to your character’s names that you can show off to your friends and to strangers. As of now, my captain is Ahernan, Champion of the Lone-Lands, a title I got for slaying an excessive amount of orcs. It would be cool if titles had effects depending on which one was equipped, such as mine allowing more damage done to orcs, or causing a fear effect, but the name by itself is enough. Now Turbine points are the currency used for Turbine’s in-game store. These points can be used to buy almost anything, from goods and services, to buffs, to crafting and experience boosts, to cosmetic items, additional character slots, guild upgrades, and even house decorations. But to be honest, the only things I’ve ever used it for is that you need to buy the riding skill in order to use a mount. Fortunately, the skill only costs 95 Turbine points. I was able to unlock the skill around level 20, which I think is an acceptable time to acquire a mount, and if you really work at the deeds, you could get it a lot quicker.
I want to talk about crafting next, and although it’s not typically used as a draw when it comes to MMO’s, in Lord of the Rings: Online, it’s very cool. Crafting works on a multiple tier system. First you have your vocation, which is a set of three professions, and this could be either Weaponsmith, Armourer, Explorer, or others. Each vocation contains three professions. For Armourer, these would be Prospector (to collect the materials), Metalsmith (to make the metal and heavy armor), and Tailor (to make lighter armor). What’s awesome about this system, is that every vocation requires someone of a different vocation to continue the work. As an Armourer, I’m incapable of collecting materials for tailoring, so I have to rely on someone who has the Forester profession. And crafting isn’t just a money making mechanic, most of the items you generate are quite useful, and a lot of times are better than items you loot or receive as quest rewards. LOTRO also features a great deal of instances, skirmishes, and raids for you to participate in, either by yourself, with a fellowship, or with your guild. And if you really want to liven things up, there’s monster play, where you can fight as a high level servant of Sauron against high level players, gaining experience, infamy, commendations, and other rewards!
Just as Lord of the Rings revolves around brotherhood, cooperation, and fellowship of course, so too does Lord of the Rings: Online. This game is much more enjoyable with friends. So whether you’re travelling together as a fellowship or forming a tightly knit guild that yields rewards the more experience the guild acquires, this game is best enjoyed in the company of your fellow Tooks and Brandybucks. And even when your companions aren’t online, the game still has plenty of ways for you to advance your character and still have fun on your own. Of course, LOTRO isn’t as perfect as the fair lady Galadriel. There are many instances, skirmishes, and areas that are locked off to free players, and cost a ridiculous amount of Turbine points to unlock. None of the original voice actors returned to lend their voices. The person who does Gandalf does alright, but the person doing Strider is way off. Many of the in-game menus are huge and take up way too much of the screen, including the map, which takes up all of the screen and isn’t transparent. And crafting, while rewarding, is a very slow and arduous process throughout all steps, including finding the materials, crafting those into a usable material, and then crafting that into your actual finished goods. And there are big level gaps in between the story quests, meaning you spend two to three levels in between doing fetch and grind quests until you’re strong enough to continue. But overall, this is an incredibly fun game that I’ve put a lot of time and effort into, and when a game rewards you for all your effort with titles, virtues, turbine points, fancy items, etc., it’s hard not to appreciate it. So once you’ve read this whole piece, send it to some friends, and get your fellowship going. And you might want to start leveling soon and getting ready, because guess what’s coming to LOTRO in October? The beautiful land of Rohan of course, and mounted combat. I’m as excited as a cave troll in Hobbiton.