The Road to Mordor: Off to the races

A long time ago in this column, back in an age of sweet innocence that I like to call "April 2010," I spent a bit of time commenting on the nine classes in Lord of the Rings Online and how they appeal to different playstyles. Today, as I sit here swaddled in a blanket, drinking tea and desperately trying to wish this cold away, I want to write the companion piece to that article, dealing with races.

LotRO is somewhat unique in the MMO landscape in that it is pretty confined to four and only four playable races outside of PvMP. As much as we love the Pale Folk, I highly doubt we'll ever be given another racial choice for the lifespan of the game -- at least, not without some fiddly logic on Turbine's part. Besides, the four races we're given -- Dwarf, Man, Hobbit and Elf -- are the iconic grouping of the books, and trying to add a gnome or giant or well-intentioned half-orc to the Quest would just come off as silly.

Anyway, if you're starting out in LotRO or mulling over an alt, there's a lot more to consider when picking a race than just "what looks good" (although I'm not going to tell you looks aren't important, no I am not). Races influence your starter zone, traits, special skills and class picks. Join us as we jump down the rabbit hole and emerge in a magical land full of words and screenshots!
Dwarf

Dwarves are short, stubborn miners who are quite single-minded once they get locked into an idea. While Lord of the Rings' Dwarves may be the prototype for the dwarf stereotype that we've seen in loads of fantasy novels, RPGs, and MMOs, they have a few distinguishing differences. For one, they're not just drunkards with a pickaxe and a Scottish accent but rather fairly intelligent and loyal craftsmen who seek adventure as much as fortune. For another, they are truly fiercesome warriors who aren't afraid to go toe-to-toe with Sauron's forces any day of the week.

In my opinion, Dwarves are probably the least-played race in LotRO. I'm not a huge fan of their character model, but I certainly appreciate a Dwarf at my side whenever one joins the party. Their architecture and armor tend to go for a chunky, angular approach, and they make excellent tanks and fighters.

Nationalities: Blue Mountains, Iron Hills, Lonely Mountain, Grey Mountains, White Mountains

Class pairings: Champion, Guardian, Hunter, Minstrel, Rune-keeper

Best racial traits:

  • Dwarf Axe-damage Bonus (+2% to axe damage)
  • Return to Thorin's Gate (quick map to Thorin's Hall)
  • Endurance of Stone (75% common, shadow and fire mitigation)
  • Sturdiness (+15 Might, +10 Vitality, 1% common damage mitigation)

Reasons to play a Dwarf:

  • You want a mohawk (seriously!)
  • You like playing a race few others choose
  • You want to tank (Champions and Guardians can both tank, and the Dwarf's racial bonuses help give you the edge)
  • You want to be a non-Elf Rune-keeper (Dwarves are the only other choice)
  • You want to feel right at home in Moria

Reasons you may want to steer clear:

  • The Dwarf "look" isn't as popular as other looks
  • You want to play a Lore-master, Captain, Warden or Burglar (after all, the Dwarves in The Hobbit hired Bilbo to be a burglar when they couldn't!)
  • The quick map to Thorin's Hall isn't as useful as the other three racial maps -- Thorin's Hall is pretty much out in on the edge of the map and isn't visited as often as the other main racial cities
  • You want to play a female character (Dwarves only come in the male variety, although roleplayers note that Tolkien said that female Dwarves are nearly indistinguishable from the males to non-Dwarves, so if you can RP a girl dwarf who just so happens to have a beard, more power to you)

Dwarf resources:

Hobbits

Hobbits are the famous "unlikely heroes" of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. While smaller races are typically laughed at or marginalized in other MMOs, Hobbits are actually pretty popular in LotRO. It helps that they are a well-defined and quirky race, with a sort of cheerful lunacy to them. Hobbits love their creature comforts; they normally don't wear shoes; and they'd much rather smoke a pipe and eat good food than go on any silly adventures.

I'm a huge fan of LotRO's Hobbits: They're cute and personable, and it's always a kick to see a three-foot person beat the stuffing out of a giant orc. The Hobbits also have the benefit of the best starting zone in the game (the Shire), which does an excellent job selling you on the philosophy, lifestyle and mannerisms of this race.

Nationalities: Fallohides, Harfoot, Stoor

Class pairings: Burglar, Guardian, Hunter, Minstrel, Warden

Best racial traits:

  • Hobbit Toughness (+15 Vitality)
  • Return to Michel Delving
  • Hobbit-stealth (a nice stealth ability for non-Burglar classes)
  • Hobbit-silence (allows you to feign death to escape combat)

Reasons to play a Hobbit:

  • You're naturally are drawn to pint-sized playable races
  • You want to follow in the footsteps of Bilbo, Frodo and Pippin
  • You want a race that brings out the giddy, mischievous side of you
  • Michel Delving is a great place to be able to travel to quickly, as all of the major vendors and trainers are within short distance from each other
  • Hobbit tanks rock!
Reasons you may want to steer clear:

  • You want to play a Rune-keeper, Captain, Champion or Lore-master
  • It's a small thing (rimshot), but Hobbits seem to need to swim more often where taller races would just run across puddles
  • Past the Shire and Bree, there aren't that many Hobbit settlements or storylines (although Enedwaith does feature one such village)
  • Smaller character models mean that you won't see (or show off) as much of your armor
Hobbit resources:

Elf

If you've seen one elf, you've seen them all; they're infinitely wise, somewhat mournful, a tad arrogant, nature-loving, and long-living. LotRO's elves are already beginning to desert Middle-earth as they head west across the sea, but plenty remain to fight the good fight. "Curves" and "nature" are the two big themes of Elven architecture and design, and that tends to be reflected in their armor and weapons as well.

Elves are a fairly popular pick for race, especially for Hunters (I mean, c'mon, Legolas is the sole reason why Elf archers pop up in MMOs like crazy). They get the most useful instant map of any of the races, one that takes them to Rivendell. Why's this so important? As anyone who's gone through Volume 1 of the epic storyline will attest, you'll be visiting Rivendell approximately every eight minutes. Really, Turbine needs to put in a subway line or something.

Nationalities: Lindon, Lorien, Mirkwood, Rivendell, Edhellond

Class pairings: Champion, Guardian, Hunter, Lore-master, Minstrel, Rune-keeper, Warden

Best racial traits:

  • Agility of the Woods (+15 agility)
  • Elf bow-damage bonus (+2% bow damage)
  • Return to Rivendell
  • Eldar's Grace (75% parry for 10 seconds)
Reasons to play an Elf:

  • They make great Hunters, Champions and Lore-masters due to racial traits
  • The Rivendell map is one of the best maps of the game
  • Elves are your "thing" -- I won't judge you if they are. Well, I will, but I'll keep it to myself
  • Elves look good good in robes
  • Large amount of class picks
  • Natural class for RPing
Reasons you may want to steer clear:

  • You want to play a Burglar or Captain
  • They have a very feminine look, male or female
  • You won't be able to kill the little critters (like rabbits, squirrels, etc.) that you'll come across, since Elves have such a large respect for nature
  • Male Elves lack facial hair
  • You're not into the whole nature-fest vibe
Elf resources:

Man

The race of Man -- yes, there are female "Men" -- is similar to the standard human race that most MMOs offer. You pretty much know what you're getting here, so Man is a good pick for anyone who's most comfortable with the familiar. They have a decent medieval aesthetic going on and probably the most interesting facial options (including beards) out of all the races. The race of Man is also on the upswing in Middle-earth, and this will become more prominent as we head into Gondor and Rohan.

The race of Man also comes with a big advantage in the class department. While Hobbits and Dwarves get a measly six class options and Elves a more respectable seven, Men get eight, and that includes the Man-exclusive Captain class. That's right: If you want to play a Captain, you're going to be a Man. Deal with it.

Nationalities: Bree-land, Gondor, Rohan, Dale

Class pairings: Burglar, Captain, Champion, Minstrel, Lore-master, Warden, Hunter, Guardian

Best racial traits:

  • Man sword-damage bonus (+2% damage to swords)
  • Return to Bree
  • Strength of Morale (a beefy instant heal on a long cooldown)
  • Upper-cut (trust me, it's always fun to punch enemies on the chin)
Reasons to play a Man:

  • A large class selection
  • Most familiar race for players
  • You want to play a Captain
  • They're pretty good at most roles
  • You want to be a non-Elf Lore-master
  • Bree is the epicenter of the early game
Reasons you may want to steer clear:

  • Man isn't a very exotic racial pick
  • You want to play a Rune-keeper
  • You don't want to play the most popular race in the game
  • No stealth abilities (unless you're a Burglar)
Man resources:


When not enjoying second breakfast and a pint of ale, Justin "Syp" Olivetti jaws about hobbits in his Lord of the Rings Online column, The Road to Mordor. You can contact him via email at justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.
This article was originally published on Massively.