1. The Community
As everyone knows, a good community is essential to a great gameplay experience -- while a fragmented, immature one drags it down. LotRO is widely recognized  as hosting one of the absolute best communities in MMOs, folks who are passionate about both the setting and the game, and who generally are open and eager to hand out advice and assistance to the stranded traveler.
In my experience, I've seen far more people with setting-appropriate names than those sporting pseudonyms like "Hobbitzkillaz", and players are generally open to grouping if you need help finishing a particularly difficult (or grindy) quest. It's not difficult at all to find yourself a mature, welcoming kinship on any of the servers who place more of an emphasis on social interaction than hardcore raiding (although those exist as well!).
2. The IP and Lore
Whether you're one of Tolkien's biggest fans and can quote every line from his books, just a casual fan who is more familiar with the movies than anything else, or are largely clueless about Middle-earth other than it has something to do with short people and jewelry, Lord of the Rings Online contains a treasure trove of lore, story and setting that few other MMOs contain. This is largely in part to the detailed world that J.R.R. Tolkien created, from which Turbine is building piece by piece while expanding it in the spirit of the books.
Lord of the Rings is an intellectual property so vast that you could easily spend years trying to get a handle on the lore and still be skimming the surface -- and yet, it's also accessible to the layperson who is looking to pick up on the "highlights" of the tale.
3. The Huge, Expansive World
For what is a relatively small part of the larger Middle-earth that's currently explorable in LotRO
, you never get the feeling of being a big fish in a small pond -- quite the opposite, in fact. Everywhere you go are looming statues, mammoth mountains, hidden dells and uncivilized territory that has the giddy effect of making you feel as though you're journeying through an actual world that takes time and effort to traverse, even with stables (horse-paths) and a couple travel maps at your disposal.
By the time that you are deep into the snowy landscape of the Misty Mountains or the dangerous underdark of Moria
, you will -- like Frodo and Sam -- look fondly upon your days in the lush Shire as one of the last "safe" places in the world and grasp that you are going on an actual adventure, not just ping-ponging between theme park hubs.4. The Role-Player's Paradise
Role-playing is sometimes seen as a niche activity in MMOs that's been waning over the past decade or so, but it has never been stronger than in LotRO
. The setting helps greatly, of course, but so does Turbine's support of the RP community in providing cosmetic outfits, places in the world to stage events, allowing players to link to each other in family trees, and highlighting RP events from time to time, such as the weekly "Ales and Tales"
While role-playing occurs across all servers, Landroval is seen as the "unofficial RP server", which draws a disproportionate amount of serious RPers and RP kinships.5. The Epic Questline
MMO gamers occasionally grumble about the "death of story" in their games, and how we tend to quickly skip past the quest text to hit "accept" to streamline leveling. LotRO
, however, has stood up for story since day one by making their epic questline one of the centerpieces of the title, involving players in the quest of the One Ring, various associated characters and the impact of the Enemy's advance on the Free Peoples of Middle-earth.
Starting with the tutorial, the epic questline currently spans three "volumes", each consisting of several "books" (typically one per zone) which have a number of "chapters" (quests). These books are now fully soloable, thanks to a recent patch, and offer a continuous storytelling experience, voice acting, scripted events, special instances, and incredibly nice rewards. Turbine's newer book quests even feature "alternate drama sequences"
that change based on your past actions.6. The Beauty
I don't have any scientific data to back this up, but I'd wager that if per player per minute, LotRO
is one of the most heavily-screencaptured games in the online space. There's a reason for that -- Turbine's artists did a knock-out job of creating vistas, creatures and models that are truly beautiful. It's a game that's easy on the eyes, and offers a visual reward for explorers and reluctant burglars as they progress.7. The Neat Little Touches
Whether it be a bear's roar that literally shakes the screen, mobs that come out at night but hide during the day, or even the subtle distinction of "morale" instead of generic health/hit points, this is a game that continually delights the observant gamer with clever touches and ideas. While it's familiar enough to players of other MMORPGs to pick up, the joy is in the details that set this title apart in a thousand tiny ways.8. A Journey and a DestinationLotRO
is unique among MMORPGs in that its source strongly features a journey from A to B, advancing the timeline as Frodo nears Mt. Doom for his final destination
. The game is built around this journey, and while there are several offshoot zones and locations
that Frodo and Co. didn't directly pass through, the sense of progressing through the world toward a specific point is undeniable. It's hard to explain why this changes the feel of playing LotRO
as it slowly expands toward Mordor, but it does, and there's a sense of purpose for the journey that comes more naturally to this game than in others.
9. Three Years' Worth of Stability and Content
It's an undeniable fact that any new MMO that launches will result in a wake of players complaining about missing content, buggy features and instability. More established titles like LotRO
have weathered this storm and continually strengthened and built up their game
to where it towers over new releases by virtue of age and experience. So if you're frustrated by jumping on board everything new that comes out these days and being let down by the result, take a spin in a slightly older but more reliable vehicle.10. It Has A Little Something For Everyone
Want to play freeze tag in the ruins? Bet on horse races? Own your own house? Go fishing in the Brandywine? Collect rare titles? Engage in Monster Play? Experience a day in the life of a chicken
? Grow your own crops? Jump in a random skirmish? Team up for an epic raid? Mix and match outfits? Level up special items? Don't worry -- it's all here. LotRO
is more of a "generalist" MMO than a specialist, offering something for everyone, no matter where your interests may lie.Tavern Talk
Tavern Talk is the part of the column when we kick back with a pint of ale and highlight what's going on in the LotRO community this week:
The Prancing Pony Poll
- A relatively new site called The LOTRO Network hit the scene with a great idea -- collecting LotRO videos of all kinds and hosting them in one place, as well as streaming live LotRO events.
- A Casual Stroll to Mordor pokes at the lone hobby in the game -- Fishing -- and brainstorms other hobby ideas. Creative dance could rock, I agree.
- LotRO-Europe is throwing an irresistible "Welcome Back Week" from March 8-15 to all former EU players. Bonus incentives included!
- Player Versus Developer samples the cooking changes with the newest patch -- were they half-baked or scrumptious?
One of the new features to The Road to Mordor is a weekly poll that I'll use for the next week's topic -- and so, in a way, you're getting an (not so) exclusive preview of the future! I know, contain your excitement, please. If there are any specific topics or questions you'd like to see addressed in the coming weeks, don't be shy in the comments section!