I Love LOTRO
I've been playing a lot of LOTRO this summer. My main (named Toldain of course) is a nearly 40 elf loremaster. Here he is in Rivendell. I also have the full screenie with ui if you're interested.
I've been meaning to write a post about LOTRO and why I like it. The first, and foremost reason is that I love Tolkien. I read the books when I was about 15, and they captivated me. I stayed in my room in the evenings for maybe two weeks reading them.
And the game is clearly made by people who share my love of Middle Earth. They understand the story, and they dramatize the ideas in Tolkien via the game mechanics. First and foremost, you don't have health, you have morale. When your morale goes to zero, you don't die, you retreat. Which means that the Mistrel class, with it's cheerful songs, and the Captain class, with their ability to rally the troops, are among those best able to restore your Morale. This fits so well with the narrative in Tolkien. Aragorn's great strength is his ability to inspire people.
Personal characteristics are somewhat rethought. Might and Agility are mostly what you might think, but doing melee damage requires a balance of both, since your ability to hit in melee is affected by Agility, while the damage you do is determined by your Might.
Then there's Will and Fate. These determine regen of Morale and Power. I just like the notion of having a stat named Fate. Elves and Dwarves start with reduced Fate, it is not their time. Men start with enhanced Fate, it is the age of Men.
The next thing I like is how freely they use instances, and within them, unusual encounters. They have technology that allows them to make a part of any zone into an instance. Talking to an NPC might well pop you into an instance that is set some distance away. They are willing to play fast and loose with travel time in these cases, and it frees them to do interesting things, like take you on a night raid of a bandit camp with Strider, before he meets up with the hobbits in Bree.
I'm sorry, I just get a little weak-kneed about that.
In these instances, they put in a lot more narrative. At times, you will be paralyzed while stuff plays out in front of you, and at other times, the enemies will come at you from all sides. So there are definitely challenging fights to be had.
They also make extensive use of the escort quest, again making it more narrative, interesting, and often funny. An entire instance might well have you escorting an NPC, who interacts with the bad guys and advances the plot, or who sometimes asks you to go along ahead.
The writing is crisp, and characters are well portrayed.
Another kind of quest they've done a lot with is the "sneaking" quest. That is, the quest will consist of going from A to B without fighting and without being detected by certain kinds of people. In the Shire, there are quests to deliver the mail and to deliver pies without being intercepted by Nosy Hobbits or Hungry Hobbits, respectively.
I love sneaking. It's odd that I don't play thieves more. But I remember sneaking into the Third Gate of Neriak on some quest for a casting haste item. Get seen, and you die. What a rush. This isn't quite the same, but then there's the quest where you become a chicken. I'll say no more of them.
The game devs of LOTRO do not seem overly concerned with making things arbitrarily hard for you. Power questing is quite possible, as a low-level character can advance quests via kills or drops or locations while grouped with a level 50 toon. Kill exp is reduced, but quest exp is much more significant. It's the next best thing to mentoring. Remember that post I made showing how the status gained from a tradeskill writ decreased once you leveled? There is no such thing in LOTRO. I think this is due in part to budget, and part to design. Why make that effort to make things harder?
LOTRO had serious technical issues when it was released. It was buggy, and customer service was (and still is) nonexistent for all practical purposes. The game still has high performance requirements. Even after the example of WoW, game companies seem to love to push the performance envelope.
Most of their UI is quite primitive. There are a number of features that I wish it had. The selling to vendor mechanism is kind of klunky, though I understand it's better than it used to be.
I am not one who thinks LOTRO represents a new generation of MMORPG. It's more of a refinement, and a very suitable adaptation of the genre to a particular subject, which was already well developed. Nor do I think that they are destined to be more popular than WoW, except maybe when everyone stops playing WoW because they are bored of it. No, I'm pretty used to the fact that the stuff I love is never the most popular.
But it can easily be profitable, and sustain that over a number of years.