The Lord of the Rings Online is Middle Earth’s official MMORPG, immersing players in a world of epic fantasy and grindable mobs. LotRO is free-to-play with additional content available in a cash store, and provides a lengthy and engaging experience for fans of Lord of the Rings and MMOs alike.
Players of LotRO are deposited in Middle Earth in the early days of the War of the Ring. The main story of Lord of the Rings is brought up often, and players meet and interact with notable characters such as Aragorn, Gandalf, and Frodo. The main LotRO questline, however, follows events referred to but not fully described in the Lord of the Rings books and movies. Players complete quests, kill monsters, and practice crafting as they travel through Middle Earth; each region has a set level range of quests and mobs, providing a good sense of progression as players explore J.R.R. Tolkien’s fascinating world.
LotRO offers a good number of builds at character creation— players choose to be an elf, dwarf, hobbit, or human, each race bringing small bonuses and handicaps, as well as different origin stories. Race also affects what classes are available to choose from; a rune-keeper, for example, must be an elf or a dwarf, and only a human can be a captain. There are nine classes in total, each providing a different mixture of DPS, healing and buffing, and tanking ability. The burglar, captain, champion, guardian, hunter, lore-master, and minstrel classes are available right off the bat while the rune-keeper and warden classes must be purchased from the in-game store.
Players follow a series of ‘Epic’ quests that advance the main story, but a massive amount of side quests flesh out the experience and give players incentives to find and explore new areas. The quests themselves are largely uninteresting, usually amounting to something like “kill ten goblins” or “talk to this fellow and then collect seven boar tusks”. The rewards for completing these missions, on the other hand, are usually worth the work, providing a steady stream of increasingly powerful weapons and armor. Additionally, quests often send players to new and interesting environments, showcasing the huge variety of content available to explore. Quests in the main storyline largely draw from the Lord of the Rings books, introducing characters such as Tom Bombadil and Elrond’s sons Elladan and Elrohir, along with many others conspicuously absent in the films.
The combat in LotRO is pretty standard— right-click to attack, a massive library of hotkeys to use powers, and WASD to dance tauntingly around your selected target. Enemies are generously scattered across the countryside like aggressive bundles of xp to be collected, but quest locations especially tend to have lots of hostiles. While it’s possible to solo combat with any class, each has specialties; hunters favor ranged combat, burglars pile on debuffs, champions do great area-of-effect damage, and so on. There are special areas and quests designed for fellowships (parties of up to six) to fight through, using the varied specialties to maximize effectiveness.
After the player is loaded down with loot and finished with quests, it’s back to town to get rid of the former and get more of the latter. Each region has at least two locations where items can be bought and sold, tasks can be completed, and crafting can be done. A region’s biggest city, like Caras Galadhon in Lothlorien or Michel Delving in the Shire is usually home to even more facilities, such as auction houses, inns, and specialized shops. The real-world cash shop is accessible at any point in the game and offers content such as additional quests, areas, and activities, among other things.
There are ten available ‘professions’ in LotRO: farmer, prospector, forester, cook, tailor, metalsmith, weaponsmith, woodworker, jeweler, and scholar. No single character, however, can practice all ten— players choose a ‘vocation’, a set of three professions for their character to use and level. For example, the armorer vocation includes prospecting, metalsmithing, and tailoring and the yeoman vocation involves tailoring, farming, and cooking. Different professions interact to form LotRO’s economy— wood collecting from foresting is used in the woodworker profession, and so on. Crafted weapons and armor are often better than the equipment found in stores at a similar level. LotRO’s crafting system rounds out the game and opens up opportunities for immersive role-playing in non-combat situations.
There is an option for ‘sparring’ between players, but LotRO’s main PVP platform is ‘monster play’. Some players take control of orcs, spiders, and other monsters, then face off against other player’s elf, dwarf, man, and hobbit characters (the free peoples). Fighting takes place on a very large map with various capture points. As players complete missions and kill monsters or free peoples, they gain levels of renown (for free peoples) or infamy (for monsters). In many ways, this is LotRO’s current endgame, as a level of 90 is required to participate for free peoples. Monster play gives players the chance to test their skills against other invested players in a way that doesn’t break immersion in the rest of the game.
The Lord of the Rings is a mythos beloved to many, and by remaining relatively faithful to J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, LotRO provides a good platform for those wishing to role-play in Middle Earth. There are a handful of role-playing servers where players immerse themselves in Tolkien’s world, making jests after returning from an adventure or holding impromptu concerts in the Prancing Pony inn. On these servers, player names must fit in the Lord of the Rings context— you won’t find any of the messes of numbers and letters that usually run about in MMORPGs. The environment of LotRO is a breath of fresh air for both the role-player and the Lord of the Rings enthusiast.
The Lord of the Rings Online is a beautiful expression of Middle Earth’s character and lore. The combat and quest structure is generally formulaic, but these basic mechanics along with an interesting crafting system support a believable and engaging world. Lots of story content and absorbing PvP makes LotRO a game that can be enjoyed for hundreds of hours. LotRO provides a classic MMORPG experience flavored with the deep lore and fascinating world that made the Lord of the Rings so great.