Friday, February 23, 2007

Lord of the Rings Online Random Reactions

I got a beta key
for LOTRO, probably in advance of the stress test this weekend.

I've made three characters thus far: a hobbit guardian, an elf lore-master, and a human hunter.

Guardians are the tanks. Haven't played this one much. The Hobbit instanced intro is so-so. Then they dump you in a Human village. I don't know why you don't start in the Shire. A strange choice, but the first tier of quests are semi-instanced (you're thrown in with the other players dealing with that tier before you head to the world proper) so this is probably done to limit the number of intro questlines (elves and dwarves get sent to the same first-tier area).

Lore-masters are the magic-using pet class. This is a low-magic world so the effects aren't super-flashy. You might raise your staff above your head and then it glows and you get a bonus. Or you reach into a pouch and toss a small handful of fire at an enemy. The first pet is a raven, which isn't very useful but looks cool.

The Hunter is a ranged fighter. Thus far my favorite Hunter ability is the set trap, which works better than the WoW equivalent. Basically you're setting a radius - if an enemy enters that radius your trap will go off and keep them rooted, allowing you to deal out ranged damage. It's much easier than trying to maneuver an enemy directly onto a trap.

The game reminds me very much of Asheron's Call 2, which isn't a bad thing.

But there are bad things in the game.

The LOD system appears to use some kind of filter that billboards trees and such and makes them look almost like a watercolor painting. It's not as pretty as it sounds, though, since the tree billboards don't match the 3-d models that swap in, creating a horrendous effect.

My next complaint is with the animation. Sadly, I don't think this is just the LOTRO team, but something to do with Turbine. They've never gotten the animation right; In DDO, in fact, the animation system was hopelessly broken. Creature idles are almost imperceptible. When they run toward you they look ridiculously sped up. The attacks are dull. The player-character animations are a little better, but humans run in an almost bow-legged manner. Jumping characters toss their arms in the air in a needlessly-exaggerated manner.

It's difficult to figure out how to control aggro or even whether you'll aggro a creature. Wolves and boars mostly seemed to stand in one place or shuffle a few feet forward. Now some will point out that creatures do this in WoW. True. I was expecting a little better by this point. At least show them foraging, or digging in the dirt, or scratching against a tree.

The interface also needs more polish. It's too small. The windows don't auto-arrange (there might be an option for this, though). It needs to be sleek, immediately comprehensible, and more responsive.

There are also typical things in the game.

Dying was handled . . . somehow. You have a certain amount of time to "retreat" from battle. Doing so places you at a circle of stones with a negative applied to your stats (this is similar to how Guild Wars handles death). I guess if you don't retreat then you need someone to rez you (I believe Captains gain this ability).

The beginning quests are the generic "bring X of Y" or "kill X of Y". Fetch quests and Cull quests, the bread and butter of MMOs. There are also the plotline quests, which are a little more involved and at a certain point trigger another instanced mission (after which sends you to the world proper).

And some good things.

The quest text is decently-scripted. It helps that the lore is at least generally familiar to most, which is probably the best thing this game has going for it.

The Title system is nice, similar to the Badges from City of Heroes. There are several other systems that I haven't yet completely explored. There are Characteristics that you earn that modify specific actions or stats (a bonus to defense, for example). You can also place other player-characters onto your family tree, which is a cool way to build up social connections.

The graphics aren't impressive but I'm using an old card. This is probably why I don't think LOTRO will compete favorably with WoW. WoW looks pretty damn good with very low system specs - angular, exaggerated, colorful, cartoony. LOTRO looks . . . okay. Not great. A bit generic. The architecture actually feels plain. Also, it's just way too dark at night - way too dark.

I have yet to try out the crafting system, which is supposed to be fairly involved.



I decided to make my Hunter a freckled, dark-skinned female.

While the robust character editor allows the application of many different hues of dark skin, I saw only one other dark-skinned character, with the lovely name "Dolemite."

Other than that it was a sea of light-skinned faces.

My immediate reaction was how very out of place I felt. This was a strange feeling.

My next reaction was to wonder exactly what the near-absence of dark-skinned characters says about those who play MMOs. Is the genre dominated by light-skinned players? Are they more likely to create a light-skinned avatar?

I noticed this also in WoW. Not so much with the monstrous races or the ones with non-human skin tones, but definitely with humans, dwarves and gnomes.

I suppose even fantastic escapism can incorporate subtle biases.


The previous musing reminded me of my worst experience attempting to play a tabletop RPG.

This was in Athens, Georgia. Somewhere around seven to eight years ago. I was just out of high school and working for the University of Georgia.

A friend of mine worked for the best gyro place ever. One of his co-workers was apparently creating his own D&D type RPG and wanted to get a few people together to test it.

Why not?

The co-worker was a bit of a strange guy, big and excessively hairy and into collecting large swords. A member of the SCA. A fairly standard RPG geek with eclectic interests. A decent fellow.

So it was me, my friend, his co-worker, and a guy I can only call Bigot.

Bigot was young, loudmouthed, and opinionated. He would become a frat boy in a few years, even if he never went to college. I hated him right away, but tried to stick it out for the good of the game.

Except we never got to play. The co-worker started explaining the game. It took awhile. The gist was that this was similar to D&D with a few extra starting races to choose from, some animal-human hybrids - an eagle race, a lizard race, a cat race.

Bigot wanted to be a cat. The co-worker said okay, cool, and said that they had black fur.

Bigot narrowed his eyes. "Why's it gotta be black?"

Co-worker: "It's just the fur. The skin can be whatever color you want."

Bigot: "I ain't gonna play something that's black."

Co-worker: "Just deal with it, it's a fucking game."

Bigot: "Well, can I make the fur a different color?"

Co-worker: "No, that's what color they are. That's how it is."

This went on for awhile, with my friend and I aghast at Bigot's mind-blowing application of bigotry. Seriously, if there were an award for Most Creative Use of Nonsensical Bigotry I think he would've won, hands-down.

Right after the argument my friend and I quickly found some way to excuse ourselves and took off as fast as we could.

This is why it's important to vet your playtesters before you assemble them together.


Russ said...

What is this magical key for dark skinned characters that is supposed to exist???where do I find this???

Johnny Pi said...

Your skin tone options will change when you select different places of origin. I think Gondor might have the darkest hues. That's only for Human. I don't think Elves or Hobbits can get very dark, but it is possible to make dark-skinned Dwarves.

Russ said...

Thx!...and all this work I've done on me little elf