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I’m not really sure WHAT inspired me to come back and give it a try again…

When it first released and I bought it (being a long time fan of Turbine games) I really enjoyed it.  The game offered multiple layers to it’s (at the time only) PvE element for both customization and character development, it had a rich overarching story telling system (similar to the now defunct AC2), and great universe integration.  It had about everything I enjoy in an MMO, but for whatever reason, it didn’t grab me.  Perhaps it was due to the clunky skill systems, or the over all busy nature of the games complexity, but it just felt wrong after I got past my 20s/30s in the game.

Navigation was a headache, and often times, the little to no reward I started seeing from the quest lines began to leave me wanting more.  The amount of work required to do basic things, such as combat, also began to wear on me (I was a loremaster, which is a very inventive great class). 

However, several expansions, engines, and a pay model change later I’ve decided to give it a go again; here are my initial impressions upon returning (some of these I’ve experienced from recent jaunts back as well):

  • Graphics have improved
  • Character responsiveness still not what I’d like to see
  • Storylines have become richer
  • Customizations have branched further
  • PvP is a nice addition, but meh
  • Soloing feels easier
  • Free to Play model seems implemented fairly well
  • Long term game play feels more promising than before

So lets discuss these points a bit more.

DX11 has been integrated, aside from some differences in the shadows, soft particles, and some interactive water effects (not sure why this wasn’t done prior to DX11) I don’t see a huge difference from the previous DX10 and DX9 iteration.  Textures (although high res versions have been available for a while) still don’t offer anything new, no tessellation, I don’t suspect or expect them to redo all the in game textures and engine, especially since I already find the game quite beautiful but the tech in me always wants to see rendering boundaries pushed.  Mind you I’m on an SLI rig that is DX11 capable, I WANT to make use of that when I game.


 

Character responsiveness has always been a bit of a nagging point for me in Turbine games since their original Asheron’s Call.  I can only assume it’s something to do with their code that requires server response before the client will report movement.  Most online games allow the client to dictate to the server it’s position and the server simply analyzes that and agrees or disagrees with the client.  This is called client-side prediction and has been in use in multiplayer games since the days of Quake at least.  Wikipedia states that Duke Nukem 3D used it as well, but my first real taste of the difference came from shifting out of native Quake DM into QuakeWorld DM where it existed, but I digress. It might even be that Turbine engines USE a form of client-prediction that requires some sort of start receive message before engaging client control, I don’t know, but it causes the client side experience to feel delayed to some extent.

So what does that all mean in a practical scenario? It basically means, when I press forward, either I move forward, or I have to wait a split second or more before my character moves forward.  Both can create unfavorable gaming moments, but I feel that the method in place in Turbine games has been problematic since it’s inception, especially given the responsive nature of their game mechanics.  The thing of it is, in their current design, you are less likely to be called back to a previous position (rubber banding) but rubber banding generally only happens in the most extreme of latency/packet loss cases.  So to avoid rubber banding (I suppose) they verify client input prior to client output, and I see a delay before I can change my X Y or Z position in the game world. 

I would be remised though if I didn’t mention it’s game integrity benefits though as well.  It protects the server from being deceived by client-side “trainers” or utilities that can report illegal positions used to exploit game mechanics.  Anyone who’s played WoW and knows about people porting and speed hacking etc, these are fundamental vulnerabilities to that technical design.  Tolerances usually exist in client prediction to allow a client to get from point a to point b without having to report every step across the grid.  That tolerance NEEDS to be there or you would see a lot of rubber banding, this is what allows smooth game play on really bad connections.  However, it’s easy to exploit that relationship by passing bogus packets to the server.  Both require creativity to overcome their hurdles, and they both do so well enough.  For me personally I feel with client prediction you open yourself to more administrative headaches in an MMO, but a better customer experience.  So I can’t help but feel it’s non-use is a form of laziness at the cost of the gamer.  One could reason it improves customer experience by insuring a level playing field but lets just move on.


 

Storylines, customizations, soloing, and PVP aren’t NEW features per say, but they are features that didn’t exist or have become more robust since it’s release in 2007.  They’ve got 2 expansions and a 3rd on the way so there has been and will still be growth in this game.  It, like a fine wine, has matured rather nicely.  I’ve also been a fan of Turbine’s story telling, and LotRO is no different, and only continues to prove (to me) their mastery in the medium of engaging RPG content in an MMO.  They’ve revamped their starting story lines, and added more tie ins to their quest chains, they introduced new methods for questing/instancing/booking called skirmishes as well.  I could go on for a long time about all the methods they have taken to make their storylines relevant and effective to meet game play but it’s something one has to experience I think more than read about.  The addition of their PvP system (called PvM for Player Versus Monster) even insures story integration into their game by forcing players to spin off new evil characters strictly for PvP.

The other aspect of the game I’ve always found intriguing is their deeds, titles, outfitting, traits, and dying systems.  All offer a robust amount of options for character diversity in their own right, but can really offer diverse customizations when the sum of all parts come together.  Mind you, like all MMOs, people will MIN/MAX so some of the traits etc become pretty cookie cutter for what is used, but it’s not from a lack of options that’s for sure.  They’ve continued to add to these systems, and at times it leaves my head swimming trying to keep track of them all, I tend to be a meta gamer so information overload is definitely something I suffer from when reviewing the possibilities.

The solo aspect of the game also seems to be more realistic than it was at release.  Not so much that you can check out when you are playing, but enough that one can keep a decent rate of progression while going at it alone.  Also some of the earliest content that was at one time a guaranteed group event has been scaled back.  Some may complain it’s TOO easy now, and they may be right, but I feel it’s found a sweet spot.


 

They’ve also converted to a Free to Play gaming model which seem to be all the rage now with MMOs (Thanks Korea!).  For anyone not familiar with a standard F2P gaming model it’s simple, offer a game for free, gut some features out and reserve them for 1) subscribers 2) one time game purchase 3) micro transactions.  In a nutshell, like selling crack.  The first one’s always free!

But seriously, it’s a clever business model, for a guy like me it gives me a demo of what I’m going to invest in and leaves me the option of giving my monthly sub since I’ve no issue with that (and haven’t since I really started into MMOs back in 97/98).  There is also a warm fuzzy seeing an itemized list of things you are getting for your money.  Mind you, it’s all nonsense and I am aware of that, but “if I pay monthly I get…” definitely passes through my mind as a comfort statement when I’m looking at F2P games.  This one of course being no exception, I’m not a huge fan of micro transactions, I’d rather lease the service than commit to it.

At any rate, it’s flexible, and playable even if you want to go in on the cheap.  Kudos to them for making that transition, and congratulations on their success with it.


 

Overall I feel the long term playability of the game has vastly improved, but it’s definitely got it’s competition like all other games.  There appears to be plenty of high end content and customizations to chase after.  There’s also multiple facets to their storylines as well that are worth exploring that I think give incredible replay value to their game.  I suppose I’ll keep going with this for a while in my free time as my fill in game.

If you are interested, look for me, or mail me in game on either Lotekend or Jahosi.

Link!!11!1!

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