‘Lord of the Rings Online’ — Kuno’s First Impressions

Originally posted 3/16/07 on Avataritoria.

Well, after paying the money to pre-order LOTRO, guess what? I got invited to the closed beta. I’m as happy as a little girl.

I may have mentioned this in another post, but I’m the original, unreconstructed Tolkien geek. I first read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in the third grade, and I couldn’t even guess how many times I’ve read them since. My favorite book of all time is The Silmarillion. Yes, I’ve read all those History of Middle Earth books, in which Tolkien’s son publishes his father’s old doodles and tax receipts. I’ve read his biography and his published letters. I can name all 13 dwarves and all seven sons of Fëanor. I even (occasionally) write Sauron’s Blog.

I loved the movies, although I can recite every single deviation from the novels, and explain every reference. I can explain to you the real reason Denethor went mad, where Gandalf went when he died and why he came back, and why it’s significant that Galadriel turned down the Ring. I can also tell you that Saruman didn’t die at Orthanc, the Galadhrim did not fight at Helm’s Deep (and never would have), and that Sauron is NOT an evil lighthouse.

So with my Tolkien bona fides firmly established, there should be no surprise that I’ve been anxiously awaiting The Lord of the Rings Online since it was announced in 2003 as Middle Earth Online.

It’s still in beta, and I imagine and hope that many of the small annoyances derive from that fact. For that reason, I’m only going to give general impressions at this time, and save any complaints for launch.

1.) I love that Elf characters start their storyline 600 years before the events of the game, and arrive in the present after the initial tutorial level. Immortality FTW!
2.) All the players with non-Tolkien names annoy the hell out of me. N00bs. My female Elf hunter is named Arthradha. Sindarin for “Beautiful Traveler,” it’s a name I researched for a Tolkien tabletop game a while back.
3.) The graphics look nice. But this is not the first new MMO I’ve seen with a metallic earth tone color palette. I guess giving everything copper highlights is supposed to add to realism, but it just looks strange to me. Myst Online is the worst offender in this regard, but games like Ran Online do it too.
4.) Some of the details are beautiful, and reveal the designers’ dedication to the Legendarium. Check out this screenshot:

At some time in the distant past, sunlight broke into this cave and turned this troll back into stone. Nice.
5.) When you get a quest, read every single word. Unlike in World of Warcraft, you won’t be able to just muddle your way through while ignoring the details. Pay attention to what the quest giver says. Seriously.
6.) Like the Battle for Middle-earth guys, the designers of LOTRO are eager to introduce new creatures not mentioned in the Legendarium (but that don’t conflict with it either). So far, all I’ve met are the Aurochs and the Cave-Claw Burrowers. An Auroch is a species of extinct cattle, and introducing extinct mammals fits well with Tolkien’s conception of Middle-earth as our Earth’s primordial past (as well as with the fascination Tolkien, an ardent Creationist, had with modern science and evolutionary theory, which he felt it was foolish to deny). That’s why I didn’t mind the mammoths-as-mûmakil in the movie. As for the Burrowers, I found them really annoying. I don’t find them believable, either as animals or as monsters.
7.) Thank Eru that LOTRO’s wargs are exactly what they’re supposed to be — giant, talking wolves. What the hell was Peter Jackson thinking?

I’ll keep playing, and letting you all know what I think. And when the game goes live, I’ll complain about any issues that still exist.

Nai Valaraukar tye-mátar!