Perhaps one of the most polished massively multi-player online games ever released at launch, Lord of the Rings Online stands firm on the ground for which it represents. LOTRO features all the bells and whistles of an established MMO, and offers almost unlimited potential, being relatively new to the market.
Though it may not feature groundbreaking graphics or game-play, LOTRO borrows its likeness from similar games and presents them with authority in the first ever MMO set in Tolkien's legendary Middle-Earth. The end result? Simplistic game-play and an ever-growing number of intriguing, story-driven quests set in a beautifully crafted representation of Middle-Earth appeals to both seasoned gamers and genre newcomers alike, even if only for the Tolkien legendarium it presents--I've met many people in the game who never even played an MMO before, but quickly found themselves immersed in the massive game-play environments just because they read the books growing up, and it's everything they imagined it to be. The game's artists make good use of landscape, lighting, textures, and colors to bring Middle-Earth to life.
Your story begins as Frodo and company leave the Shire. While you're not part of their journey, completing an ongoing "epic" series of quests advances the familiar story as you encounter and interact with many key characters from the books. Aside from the epic quests, traditional quests are offered in various places, ranging from the typical gathering or slaying quest, to more odd-job type quests. Quest rewards range from currency to items, and even abilities and beneficial stat-enhancing traits. The epic story quest continues with each free game update, usually every couple months. Aside from typical server maintenance and patches, the free updates offer more quest options, refines game-play for select player classes, and can even offer new features and game-play areas.
If you're a fan of PVP action, LOTRO features high level player-versus-player options at low levels---once any character reaches level 10 on any given server, you can play as a level-50 "monster" in the services of the Dark Lord Sauron. You can complete quests as a monster or engage in PVP raids. The primary purpose of "monster play" is to aid lower level characters in obtaining Destiny Points--spendable points used for short-term buffs. Destiny points are also earned by advancing in level. Once you reach level-40, you can access the same area you did as a monster, but this time in the services of the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth, earning various PVP ranks and titles.
The game's main group play feature is in the form of fellowships. You can enlist the help of others or join a fellowship if a quest is too difficult to do on your own--there's tons out there that almost require it--or you can fellow with friends and other players just for the sake of group play. Beyond grouping, the game also allows you to join or even form a kinship, LOTRO's main guild element, which often benefits you by offering aid or crafting supplies, should you need it.
LOTRO has several crafting options available in the form of vocations. Each vocation usually consists of 2 production professions and a gathering profession. Mastery of all professions within a given vocation is interdependent of other professions. Mastering a production profession like tailoring unlocks the ability to include trophy items obtained from looting slain enemies in a recipe, resulting in a finer crafted item, and in the event of a critical success, the best possible crafted item quality. Some crafted items can yield beneficial stat increases upon equipping it. Crafted items or components can go for sale on the auction house, or sold to vendors for quick cash.
All in all, whether you're a Tolkien fan or not, new to computer gaming, or just looking for a change of pace in this genre of games, Lor of the Rings Online is a solid investment. The recently made available 7-day free trial should not be missed, so check into it if you haven't already. There's also a referral program which awards free game-time upon your friends' paid subscription. Standard monthly rates in the US are $14.99USD and is billed month-to-month, unless purchased in annual or semi-annual rates. Have fun!
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