Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Wednesday Book Post: Lord of the Rings Offline

Standing Stone Games has generously offered the content of both Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online for free during the pandemic. I opted to take that offer in the case of LotRO. (D&DO is a neat game that I thought translates the D&D experience to an MMO format better than I really thought it possible, but it's not really the kind of MMO I prefer.)

Abbreviated stints aside, the last time I played LotRO in earnest was back at it's launch in 2007. I think I was buying every AAA MMO that was coming out then. I remember my poor budget laptops during college groaning under both the strain of their graphical fidelity and gigabit heft. Either way, LotRO was competing for my limited gaming budget with every other MMO, most notably World of Warcraft in it's prime. So it's not a real surprise that I didn't play much after the initial free month.

This time I've resolved to do a bit better now that I have the free-time of a college student and the computing prowess of a salaried adult. Also, MMOs don't really come out anymore. So that alleviates the competition bit of it.

The game is slow. Sometimes pleasingly so. Sometimes less so. A slower gameplay loop is fine, maybe even ideal for the long play sessions I want. But some of these quests, the Bingo Boffin episodic quests are literally just riding around the shire doing menial chores. I have a tough time believing the grown adult who designed that quest line isn't a bit embarrassed about the whole thing. 

On a positive note, I'm rereading the trilogy as I play along. It's amazing how it makes both the game and the books less dense. I hate, hate, hate when books info dump a bunch of proper nouns on me. It's why avoided science fiction and fantasy for much of my life. Tolkien arguably started that nonsense, so I should hold more of a grudge. But I plowed through the original trilogy initially because it was genuinely good (and out of a sense of obligation to an influential work). But I felt my enjoyment of the hobbits and company were limited because I lack the kleptomaniac joy of looting names and places that don't really exist. An author does their best to recreate the Book of Genesis and my eyes glaze over.

But it's better with both the book and the MMO at hand, especially the geography. Instead of quickly reading past a smattering of tweedish village names, I can close my eyes and visualize the in-game maps to see exactly where they are. That makes them more concrete in my mind. The names as well. We have a million, trillion hobbit names that become a bit more manageable when I've at least spent some time running their pies or murdering the local wild life for them in game.

It all feels much, much more real to me. More immersive. I get the superior storytelling of the books, plus the comfortable interaction of the MMO. It makes me wish we had more like that. Obviously the popular bit is to turn printed works into movies and TV shows. Which is fine and dandy enough (the wife and I are enjoying the Good Omens series currently). But what I want are video game adaptations that add to the source material.

I mean they exist, obviously, but not quite in the same way LotRO does it. I mean, Ubisoft publishes another Tom Clancy game every half hour, but those are only vaguely related to their source material. I can't play through the plot of The Hunt for Red October in any meaningful fashion. Rainbow Six is both a good book and a good game franchise, but they don't really have anything to offer one another other than the name.

Telltale has adapted the Walking Dead in a similar manner. But adventure games and visual novels don't really scratch that game playing itch for me. They tingle the reading part of my brain. (Also, I've found every incarnation of the Walking Dead to be laboriously boring.)

Video game adaptations used to come out all the time back in the 80s-2000s. But they were by the rule, crap, and rarely had the care put to them that LotRO does. Granted, maybe most media just doesn't deserve the care the Tolkien gets, but I don't think that's quite fair.

One thing I do wish for was a reading guide along with the game. The LotRO story line doesn't place you in Frodo Baggins entourage, but has you running adjacent errands that occasionally intersect with important lore characters. At first I thought the naming scheme to the game's epic quest coincided with the book's chapters. The game labels them Volume I, Book 1, Chapter 8 for example. But neither the volume, the book, or the chapter actually seems to correspond with the books themselves. Certainly an easier conceit for the game designers, but it hurts me in my overly-controlling aspects of my brain.

Perhaps I'll make my own guide. I have nothing but free time at the moment. I'm currently level 24 and have finished 99% of all the quests in Bree-land. I'll grind out the last of the slayer deeds in this area and then I have to make some decisions. Which zone do I take my Human Champion to next? Or, do I roll a Hobbit/Dwarf/Elf and see the story line of the other starter zones. The Shire quests in particular are tugging at me. Should I simply do those quests on my main? Can I actually do most of those quests on my human main? If I do roll alts to handle the unique leveling zones, what do I do with them? Are there enough leveling zones throughout the rest of the game to support leveling multiple characters without repeating content? Lots of decisions, but again, I have nothing but time.


  1. I would vote to try the other races, or at least the elf and dwarf. I haven't played the game in awhile, but I remember it was a very solid MMO story even though you were not the main character.

    1. I think I've decided on Dwarf > Elf > Hobbit. I also bought the other races on sale so I suppose I'll give those a shot as well.

  2. I think I find playing LotRO slightly more tedious than reading Lord of the Rings, which I've read twice all the way through and twice halfway through. Tolkein's trilogy is good in parts but the odd thing is that it's not always the same parts. That changes depending on how old I was when i read it.

    The best bits are always the parts in The Shire, though. If only he'd stuck to writing a long series of children's books about Hobbit home life. I would say the same applies to LotRO except it would be a bit unfair since I've never managed to get quite to the end of the base game. Maybe there are better parts later on.

    I'll never know. It's very generous of Standing Stone to give away stuff they usually charge for but they'd have to pay me to do those quests. LotRO is actually a more enjoyable game in the free version, without the questing, or so I've found.

    1. I do wonder if I would have the patience to play through LotRO if I wasn't stuck at home pining to go outside.

      That said, the early game of LotRO reminds me an awful lot of the early EQ2 expansions. At least the quest content does, just about everything else is fairly different.