Tenfold Hate


Revisiting Middle Earth
November 20, 2008, 1:16 pm
Filed under: Lord of the Rings Online, MMORPGs

Last night, my brother-in-law and I set out to conquer Middle Earth on our freshly rolled rune-keeper and warden. This was an exciting night for me. You see, we’ve both been playing MMORPGs for many years now, but we’ve never quite been on the same page. He avoided WoW because of the cartoonish graphics, while I embraced it. When I started Guild Wars, he had just quit.

When he started LoTRO, my computer fried–and when my new comp was in working order, I began one of my many brief stints in Vanguard. He was playing Tabula Rasa when the reskinned shinies of Burning Crusade lured me back in for a couple months. That, coupled with the fact that having two kids under four-years-of-age severely restricts his game time, contributed to our repeated passing like two pixelated ships in the night.

But yesterday, we breezed through the introductory Thorin’s Hall content, settled on our crafting professions, and talked of future adventures. Our timing was finally right. And the same can be said for LoTRO and me–the timing is finally right. The first thing you need to remember is I’m generally mono-game-ous.

I half-heartedly tried a 10-day free trial of LoTRO when I was in AoC open beta, having freshly stepped off the Warcraft hamster wheel for a bit of a breather. Turbine’s vision of Middle Earth immediately appealed to me, but I just wasn’t able to wash away the putrid taste PvE, level-based gaming had left in my mouth.

Fast forward to present. As WAR proved to not quite be my cup-of-tea over the course of the last month, I warmed up a little to the idea of returning to a straightforward PvE title. WAR taught me that it wasn’t PvE I was sick of, but the arbitrary nature of most gameplay in MMORPGs, whether it’s fighting PvP battles that don’t impact anything, or filling experience bars for the sake of leveling.

After all, that’s why I constantly dream about truly persistent environments and non-scripted encounters against AI that actually lives up to the “I” in its name. Patterns reveal themselves all too quickly, the virtual world loses that illusion of spontaneity–and with it any sense of “life”–and the game loses it’s luster.

Don’t get me wrong, LoTRO is not revolutionary in this way by any means. You’ve still got the kill, collect, and messenger quests anyone coming from any slew of MMORPGs is all too familar with (and generally tired of). For me though, the care given to storytelling in LoTRO is what breathes life back into what’s long ago become a tired treadmill.

As my guardian wrapped up Chapter One, that sense of progressing through a story conjured up the old feeling I’d get running with friends through a D&D module during my fledgling pen-and-paper days. The mechanics and the process of leveling felt secondary here–an afterthought–where it seems to be the focus in all too many other games. After all, if we’d played D&D strictly for our love of rolling dice, we’d all have just become craps players, no?

My first time playing, I didn’t give myself much of a chance to interact with the fabulous community LoTRO has. This may sound crazy, but it’s almost like the reverence and love players have for the Tolkien cannon somehow rubs off on the game–and that respect and courtesy translates to how players treat one another. I experienced this on a microcosmic level in Vanguard, but at the time, that game had neither the population nor the cohesive world to keep me there.

The community as a whole seems to truly enjoy experiencing the game and its world without eyes and minds locked on the destination–or the progression bar at the bottom of the screen. More than anything, I’m puzzled at how a game that seems so conventional on the surface has been able to rekindle my interest and offer a depth largely¬†absent from the majority of most other kill/collect/rinse/repeat MMOs.

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