A blogger is never late…

… nor is he early. He writes precisely when he means to.

Well, I’ve been playing LOTRO for a while now. Everyone in the world must have posted their impressions, but I thought I’d wait a bit and not rush only to say things I’ll retract or amend later. I know myself, and I know I have a big mouth sometimes.

I’ll just make it short and sweet.

– Yes, the environments are just gorgeous. Probably, in many respects and in many zones, the most beautiful and convincing I’ve seen. So, major thumbs up in that area. Nothing to reproach. However, this is balanced – in my eye at least – with the character graphics.

The first thing that always jumps up at me every time I log in is how the characters, players, NPCs and mobs alike, don’t seem to fit visually with their environments. I don’t know if it’s the lighting, the way they’re shaded or what. I thought at first I was coming up with a nasty case of the uncanny valley (look it up), but I thought about it and I’m not bothered by the quality of the models. I think they’re fine. I don’t mind them. It’s the way they don’t seem to gel with the world around them, visually.

– I’m generally liking the armor and weapons design. WoW had a more fantastic mandate when it came to its design, so it could get away with more esoteric stuff. LOTRO’s design is definitely more real-world. The texture and model detail is just much, much better, so no complains there.

The one bad thing to note in this area is that the ‘catalogue’ seems to be way too short. Many different items share the same graphics, some of them only with minor variations in color. I’m assuming most of these are using placeholder graphics, to be expanded as the game goes along, but as it is now the variety is a bit lacking.

– It’s a carbon copy of WoW when it comes to mechanics, so nothing to write home about. The only two most noteworthy additions are the deeds and conjunction systems. I’m liking conjunctions, they add a new -if eventually thin- layer to grouping. Pretty good.

I’m still unconvinced with the deeds/traits system. Not so much the deeds. That’s fine. But character customization of skills via the acquired traits? I find that lacking. This is not the place to go at length and disassemble the system, but suffice it to say it’s not deep or wide enough. You’ll end up with identical characters running around, everyone with the same desirable skills or traits, for (I imagine) most of the way to 50. Itemization doesn’t help much, because all stats are way light. You have to pile a ton on one stat to start seeing a difference.

The end result is bland. This is something that needs to be addressed to take care of the longevity of the game, unless Turbine is planning to just keep it alive via itemization.

– The minstrel as the healing class is very good. The lack of a tandem/comparable/additional healer class, not so much. Back to WoW, Priests were the healers, yes, but many times it was perfectly possible to swing it with a Paladin or a Druid. There are no ‘half-healers’ in LOTRO, and while other classes can throw a heal every now and then, this does not happen on demand, which results in a group unable to count on those heals. Ultimately, there’s only one healer class. The minstrel. And for some instances, you can’t swing it with anything else. So if there’s no minstrel around, you’re essentially done for.

I’m expecting this to be addressed at some point. Either with a new healing class (doubtful) or a major revamp of Lore-masters or Captains to let them provide more healing on demand.

– Launch went well, servers are stable and other than a brief hiccup in service a few days ago, they’ve been performing rather admirably. So kudos to Turbine for that. Very smooth experience so far.

– I didn’t bother with crafting. It just holds no interest to me. My wife is really into it, however, so I’m vicariously learning a thing or two. Still, as I posted earlier, it’s fundamentally broken. So, while it can provide the fleeting useful item every now and then, it’s mostly meaningless. Unless they take the WoW route and fill the endgame with a need for resist gear that has to be crafted, going by what I’ve seen so far, world itemization and quest rewards not only compete with crafting, they leave it in the dust.

– I think the login procedure is a disaster. Takes too long to actually start the game and log in. For example, there’s no need for the launcher to give me the option of choosing which server to play in (and of course wasting time in querying them all). I have all my characters in one server – I should be able to select it once and automatically log into that server just by starting the game. Give me an option, a button, to select another server if I want to… but forcing me to stare at a server list only for me to select the same one 100% of the time is nonsense. Same with the cinematics (I’m sure there’s a way to disable them – nice as they are) and with the splash screen about the expansion. Why not put the expansion news on the launcher screen instead of adding yet another stop in the middle of logging?

It’d also be nice on the character screen to see the location my characters last logged off. Sometimes I don’t remember and it’s good to know.

– Interface: A mess, really. The actual game UI is WoW-like. Simple and that’s about it. But the social panel is terrible to use. Too convoluted. The auctions panel is pretty bad as well. No tabbing between fields, no selecting the whole search string text with one click -or a ‘clear field’ button-. Pretty poor usability overall. I find myself dreading it when I need to use them. Same with the mail interface. Auto-fill in for names in your friends list or your kinship should be a no-brainer, as well as allowing multiple attachments.

They really, really need to improve this area or open up the system for mod makers to do it (doubtful).

– Despite its bad points, I find myself having some fun. I’m not bored with it at all. It does have a few nice encounters, and the instances I’ve seen so far are pretty well-designed. Very interesting visually. Overall, I have to say that my experience has been constantly hovering between fun (though not orgasmic fun) and slightly underwhelmed. The game’s been out for a week or so, so there’s plenty of time for things to be corrected if there’s a will to do it.

Time will tell, of all the grievances and bad points, which ones are genuine bugs or things to be corrected and which ones are design decisions, never to be ‘fixed’, no matter what the playerbase thinks.

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