Destiny-Locked

Just a week ago, Lord of the Rings Online launched. Every wannabe game writer on the planet had their shot at a preview and a review and a perspective and an opinion. There seems to be a near-universal consensus on a few points.

-- It's World of Warcraft in Tolkien clothing.
-- It launched cleanly.
-- For a dedicated MMO player, LOTRO will just be an intermezzo -- something to tide them over until they either regain their passion for the One True Game, or move on to Warhammer or Age of Conan.

I believe all of this is true. I also think it misses the point.

My experience with MMOs has been similar to my experience in most games -- short term bursts of fashion, a modicum of skill, followed by a decline in interest, ending in a sense of guilt that I have moved on and somehow betrayed something which I loved, and loved me in return.

Lord of the Rings Online has only been part of my canon for a few months. I'm not naive enough to utter the four most expensive words in the English language (this time it's different) but I am willing to say that to dismiss LOTRO as just another MMO is a mistake.

What sets LOTRO apart on the surface is the story. Not the world, the story. Yes, LOTRO benefits from having a rich backdrop of shared experience. Everyone knows what a hobbit looks like, how elves talk, and where the Old Forest is. But this background is nothing more than a shortcut. World of Warcraft, EVE Online, Neocron -- they each have deep, well developed stories, and given the maturity of those worlds, the stories are for fans as convoluted, interesting, and compelling as Tolkien stories are to Tolkien fans. And while the shared knowledge creates accessibility, successful MMOs have long since learned how to bring new players into the stories, the world, and the characters in it in a believable and comfortable way.

The reason that Story sets LOTRO apart is because you know how it ends. This is a luxury World of Warcraft simply can never have. There is no logical end to WoW, where the evil WoW faction of the Horde is victorious, and every member of the good-aligned Alliance dies. The viciously PvP nature of EVE Online means that the story can only sit on the sidelines and inform, not take center stage. But in LOTRO, the game is the story. In this, the game has far more in common with Oblivion than it does with WoW.

When dedicated WoW players join LOTRO, they are hit with what's so similar. The skill system, the crafting system, targeting, combat, even much of the interface can be seen as derivative. Of course, that's the point. WoW built on what worked in the games before its rise to dominance, just as Ultima Online drew on what worked in the 3/4 view RPGs that predated it. This isn't unoriginal, it's common sense. Turbine has simply chosen to use conventions players already know. While there are unique tweaks here and there, and while those could form the basis of an endless discussion of pros and cons, they simply don't matter. These players will simply not survive long in the game. The lack of a real PvP system, and the "just different enough" aspect of the game will likely drive them back to WoW, or on to new games that offer genuine gameplay innovation.

What will keep LOTRO alive is the players who want to be part of a story. Yes, this will mean legions of scary Tolkein freaks who will sit in OOC chat and argue about what kind of tobacco should grow in the shire. But it also means that for those gamers able to admit their love for the story lines in games like Planescape: Torment and Oblivion, there's a new animal here. It's the Co-Op Destiny-locked RPG.

This new beast compels different motivations than WoW. In WoW, the ultimate goal is power. Capping your character is about accessing end game content, and end game content is about new shiny, more powerful PvP, and killing yet bigger bad guys. Don't get me wrong, I love pretty shiny things. And I love power-gathering and PvP and big bad guys. But LOTRO is simply designed to scratch a different itch.

When I log on to play for an evening, sure, I'm stoked if I level up. But I'm stoked not because becoming a bigger bad ass in its own right is fun. No, it's because I know that with more power, I will gain access to more plot. The story -- the real story -- of LOTRO starts at point A, and will, someday, lead to Point B with the destruction of the One Ring. Becoming more powerful means I can read one chapter further into that story, and play my small part in it. And by chapter I mean chapter -- the main story quests are divided into Chapters and Books, apparently following the loose timelines of the six books in the Lord of the Rings. (For the under-geeked, the Lord of the Rings is actually divided into 6 logical books, two packaged into each physical book.) If I'm grouped (umm... fellowed) with like minded souls, the denouement of a given chapter can be breathtaking not because we killed the baddie (woot!) but because we got to experience the story from a first person perspective.

In short, it makes me feel important to the life of the game. Just like Oblivion. Just like Planescape: Torment. And while in those games I know that generally speaking, "the good guys win," in the case of LOTRO, I know how the good guys win. The story I participate in sidecars along known events with known outcomes. Already Turbine has dropped the first carrot out there for new players. In June they're releasing the first content expansion, letting players tag along as Strider goes on a scavenger hunt for all the bits he needs to remake the "sword that was broken." We know what happens -- the sword gets remade. We know when it happens -- sometime between when Frodo shows up at Rivendell unconscious and the lazy buggers get their act together and start heading south. But we've never really known much about how it happened. We get to be part of that story. And while this could devolve into a plodding life of Calvinist pre-determination, so far, it hasn't. Turbine has managed to make the game feel fluid and open, while riding the story on rails.

And while all MMOs can be seen as co-op (after all, that's what grouping is all about), in the case of LOTRO the co-op is the whole point. While much of the content and all of the power of the game could be had solo, the story threads -- the chapters and books -- can't be pursued very far without help. I suppose theoretically a dedicated solo player could wait until they were level 40 to tackle the level 20 chapters solo, but along the way they would have missed most of the game. The game is designed so that everyone is on the same side, pursuing the same goals, together.

It's not a perfect game. As with any game, there are plenty of bugs, or just things that could be done better. It's not a "Killer" or "better than" any other MMO. But it is different in ways that won't show up on any tally sheet of features or rating system.

And different is good.

Comments

maladen wrote:

Which brings me back to my point, people may decide I do not like HL2 compared to say Doom2 but HL2 threads would in most cases never devolve into this game sucks Doom2 is better in X ways the way that MMORPG threads do.

Agreed. MMOs are great, except for the MMO players.

LOTRO makes the baby Jesus cry.

Without the use of comparison-criticism that is so popular to MMOs, the fatal flaw for myself was that its powerful storyline seems a bit closed because it happens during the books. Great.

They could have really jumped on something by making this part of the Simarillion storyline or post-RoK. Did they not get enough creative license for this?

Not to harp about end-game, because it has never been the reason I play (I consider it like heaven... something nice, but never reached except by martyrs that sacrifice their ever-loving time and metacarpels to the computer god) but I suppose personally, I feel a bit constricted by the story that simply inserts my character as a tangent to the story. We'll see. Done well, this would be epic. Done poorly, eh, well, monotonous. Guess we'll leave the jury hanging on this and just wait for the day I can cry over Conan and its botching.

BlackSheep wrote:

They could have really jumped on something by making this part of the Simarillion storyline or post-RoK. Did they not get enough creative license for this?

It would be pretty cool to explore other stories and eras within middle earth, but the license doesn't allow for it.

From the official FAQ:

Is The Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) based on the movies or the books?
Turbine owns the rights to produce massively-multiplayer online games based on the written works, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

What about The Silmarillion?
At this time, our license does not include The Silmarillion.

BlackSheep wrote:

I feel a bit constricted by the story that simply inserts my character as a tangent to the story.

and

BlackSheep wrote:

...and just wait for the day I can cry over Conan and its botching.

Conan wrote:

To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women.

So, are you or are you not planning to take on the role of a woman crying over the results of one of Conan's fights?

Either that, or he really wants to play some Mary-Sue drenched fan-fic with hairy feet.

Though the concept of a MMORG you could supply your own story for would definately be interesting. Or is that Second Life?

rabbit wrote:

There is no logical end to WoW, where the evil WoW faction of the Horde is victorious, and every member of the good-aligned Alliance dies.

No offense, but this reveals a pretty deep misunderstanding of Wow (almost to the point of "have you ever even played the game?") Neither side is simply "good" or "evil". In some cases the Alliance are drastically more evil than their counterparts. Blizzard lends significant character flaws to all of the races.

Humans: Performed several acts of genocide during Warcraft's history.
Dwarves: Plunder the earth for treasure with no regard to the destruction they do in the process.
Gnomes: Addicted to technology. Destroyed own city.
Night Elves: Arrogant. Several times have nearly destroyed Azeroth.
Draenei: Weaker willed have been bent and twisted.

Orcs: Demonology in their veins.
Trolls: Cannibalistic. Some drug use.
Undead: Used to be truly evil before becoming the Forsaken.
Blood Elves: Addicted to magic.
Tauren: Probably the only truly "good" race, although naive.

crsgardner wrote:
rabbit wrote:

There is no logical end to WoW, where the evil WoW faction of the Horde is victorious, and every member of the good-aligned Alliance dies.

No offense, but this reveals a pretty deep misunderstanding of Wow (almost to the point of "have you ever even played the game?") Neither side is simply "good" or "evil". In some cases the Alliance are drastically more evil than their counterparts. Blizzard lends significant character flaws to all of the races.

Mordiceius wrote:
rabbit wrote:

There is no logical end to WoW, where the evil WoW faction of the Horde is victorious, and every member of the good-aligned Alliance dies.

This may get you some dirty looks because in WoW, neither side is truly evil and both sides have evil races (for the horde the blood elves and undead are somewhat evil and for the alliance humans can be somewhat evil).

Welcome to the site, crsgardner. We try to read the other posts before we make our own comments here.

Edit: But thanks for the race-by-race rundown. Does that mean it hasn't changed much since WC3?

maladen wrote:

It is valid if you think that it takes a step back in those areas but that is subjective. I like the game play, interface, and visuals better then WoW for example. Hence me leaving WoW with several high level characters for this game (when I say high level I was level 68 when I left over 2 months ago in a raiding guild).

I would disagree also that the story telling is the only improvement/innovation. The music system is obviously an innovation and even though Turbine had a cool music system in AC2 it was nothing that let you actually 'play' the instrument. One may argue that the Deed system is new too (with how you earn titles and traits) or certainly a new take on a talent tree. There are others that I think of as improvements/innovations but that is not really the point of the thread.

Which brings me back to my point, people may decide I do not like HL2 compared to say Doom2 but HL2 threads would in most cases never devolve into this game sucks Doom2 is better in X ways the way that MMORPG threads do.

MMORPG comparisons are unique in that
A) One game dominates the genre moreso than in any other genre.
B) The level of enjoyment you get out of the game often depends on the amount of other players who play the game.

This means that when a new MMO comes out, and you like (or dislike) it, these kinds of discussions aren't just about the game quality, they're about trying to sway the minds of potential players to join in the experience. Why else have the discussion, since most of our opinions about games are going to be largely subjective anyways?

I think making these comparisons about MMO's are extremely valid and aren't necessarily "devolving" the conversation as they revolve around the very relevant comparisons players are going to make when deciding what MMO they wish to invest their time in.

This then leads to my next point: the arguments we make may be subjective, but can we infer out of them what the mass-opinion is going to be, and what effect the pros and cons of the game are ultimately going to have on the player base?

BlackSheep wrote:

Guess we'll leave the jury hanging on this and just wait for the day I can cry over Conan and its botching.

Truer words have not been spoken.

Right now we're in the "hype" phase of Conan. We'll see if they can actually deliver.

crsgardner wrote:

Tauren: Probably the only truly "good" race, although naive.

You must play Tauren.

Not all the character flaws you cite above equate with being evil though. You can be good, and arrogant (just one example).

croaker wrote:
BlackSheep wrote:

I feel a bit constricted by the story that simply inserts my character as a tangent to the story.

and

BlackSheep wrote:

...and just wait for the day I can cry over Conan and its botching.

Conan wrote:

To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women.

So, are you or are you not planning to take on the role of a woman crying over the results of one of Conan's fights?

Only if Conan somehow falls to the sword of someone after his throne.

As a side note, I always play women in MMORPGs with a few exceptions. I figure if I'm going to be staring at a screen, it might as well be a well-pixelated pair of T&A (And don't go all Carolyn Dinshaw -- woman as object on me, I'm totally playing that up)

DevilStick wrote:
BlackSheep wrote:

Guess we'll leave the jury hanging on this and just wait for the day I can cry over Conan and its botching.

Truer words have not been spoken.

Right now we're in the "hype" phase of Conan. We'll see if they can actually deliver.

[

Yeah, but this one might just break me permanently. I'm kind of hoping that it'll never be released and always be a speck on the horizon so that I can further idealize it. Make it my Holy Grail Quest.

spoilerness wrote:

[color=#FFFFFF]Unless I'm wrong, when Frodo got pricked by the blade in book 1, doesn't Strider go on about how people wounded by things like that turn into servants of the RW? I'm no deep geek on this stuff honestly.[/color]

nerdy response wrote:

[color=#FFFFFF]I am not a huge Tolkien fan so I may be completely off.. I think the issue with him getting pricked was that in his weakened state he was more succeptable to the power of the ring he was carrying. Which if he lost himself to the ring I suppose would essentially put him in the position of the ring wraiths.. Or something like that...[/color]

As for the game I received my preorder a while back and it is still sitting with the box from ebgames unopened on my kitchen table. I thought the music system in the game was pretty cool but aside from that I couldn't really get into it. Probably just letting the WoWness and lack of any PvP potential in an environment which could have promoted it so well turn me off to it. Maybe I'll pick it up at some later date when I am bored with everything else and see if I can make myself get past the noob stuffs to get to the "juicy" part of the game.

I agree that everyone is going to compare WOW and LOTRO.Its bound to happen.I have played WOW for alost 2 yrs and really enjoyed it.but there were also things i dislike about wow.I have been playing LOTRO since beta.Havent played enough to really complain.There are certain things i dont care for in the game,but thats the way it goes.So far i am really enjoying LOTRO alot.Cant wait to really get into the chapters and story line more.Bottom line is,There will allways be a positive and negative remark on all games no matter what.You are the one playing the game and it should only matter what you like or dislike.everyone is different so they cant be you.So i play what i like and have fun untill im not having fun anymore.They are just games no sense in getting all huffy over things.just remeber it only matters what you think :).Enough of that lol.hope everyone enjoys Lotro or what ever game you are playing and have fun.thanks for reading my goofy comment.

Bottom line is, there will always be a positive and negative remark on all games no matter what.You are the one playing the game and it should only matter what you like or dislike.everyone is different so they cant be you.
They are just games no sense in getting all huffy over things.

This kind of reply is the easiest to make, and it can be used to shut down almost any discussion taking place on any Internet forum. Where, exactly is the fun in that ?

I call this the "Walk-in Jesus Syndrome", or WJS. It happens when a person walks into a middle of a conversation paying less attention to the context than they do to their desire to be seen as a peacemaker ... at a time of peace.

Elliottx wrote:

I played as a lore-master to start with, big mistake. A level 8 lore-master is easily defeated by two level 7 monsters. Now that wouldn't be a problem except in all the newbie areas there is a very high respawn rate and they are all grouped together. Also a gripe of mine, the mobs "eye" range is all over the place, it's hard to know who you will trigger and who you won't. So here I was, an expert with pets in many MMORPGs, getting beat constantly by lower level mobs because I would get ganged up on.

File under: L2P.
I, too, am a Lore-master and also played a WoW Hunter and Mage to 60, so know a thing or two about magic and pet management. It took me a while to get into the Lore-Master because it's so different than any class in WoW, which was my first MMO. But I've gotten the hang of it and there is no way that 2 or even 3 same-level mobs could take me down (unless they are undead, but that's a whole other story). Between the Blinding Flash CC spell and the various debuffs that reduce mobs' attack speed and damage, plus your pet's ability to hold aggro fairly well and your ability to heal him, there are plenty of things for a LM to do.

Yes, if you spam Burning Embers you will be annoyed by the extra 1.5 seconds you have to wait during cooldown. But if you learn to use your full range of abilities you will rarely be sitting there waiting for cooldowns, no more so than in WoW.

I think part of the problem for us former WoWers is that LOTRO is so similar in so many ways that when it diverges from the familiar WoW game mechanics our first instinct is to say it sucks. Well, it doesn't. Turbine isn't stupid and didn't rush this out the door, either. Just because combat has a somewhat different pace than WoW's doesn't mean it's bad, it's just something to get used to. But you can get a feel for it (I did, anyway), and when you do it's quite fun. I can't speak to the game experience for melee classes, but the LM is a fairly subtle and interesting hybrid class that takes a bit more finesse than you might initially think if you approach it as a WoW Hunter.

[quote=shihonage]

I call this the "Walk-in Jesus Syndrome", or WJS. It happens when a person walks into a middle of a conversation paying less attention to the context than they do to their desire to be seen as a peacemaker ... at a time of peace.

Brilliant. With your permission, I'm using that -0-