Walking the paths of Middle Earth
Whenever people talk about Lord of the Rings Online, they like to tell you about how pretty it all is - how beautiful the scenery, how impressive the architecture, how all the different areas have a distinctly unique feel to them… But, with the introduction of the first (and so far, only) priced expansion late in 2008, Turbine introduced a lurking dread to Middle Earth: The Mines of Moria, which saw players descend for the first time into the bowels of the Black Pit, hoping only to come back out alive – myself among them.
Unlike the book, where Gandalf was lost in Moria, I don’t think we lost any players permanently in the Mines (though there were some close calls). And Turbine certainly succeeded brilliantly in creating the claustrophobic atmosphere that Tolkein described so clearly in the book; that the release of the expansion coincided with a dark, cold winter in the EU that year only helped.
I was glad to leave the oppression of the Mines behind as we headed out into the light again, early in 2009, with the introduction of Lorien, the Golden Wood. Suddenly, there we were again: another pastel-coloured, pretty world populated by elves, feeling a million miles away from the dank horrors of Moria. Perhaps best of all, we could use horses again to get around on - goodbye to those pesky goats we had to use in the Mines!
It’s actually difficult to know where to start when talking about the content in LOTRO – there’s just so much to do! The basic tenet of the game is that the player roughly follows in the footsteps of the Fellowship. The story of the Fellowship progresses as new ‘books’ – free expansions – are released. To date, there have been eight books across two ‘volumes’, with one released roughly every two months.
There’s something for everyone in this game, whatever your style of play: questing or crafting, grouping or playing solo. There are end-game Raids, offering a good opportunity for six or twelve players to get together for a chat and some teamwork. The Raids vary in length of time - they can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to a full evening - so there is plenty of scope to fit raiding in with real life for the casual players and for the slightly more hard-core players to get stuck into it. But LOTRO isn’t just about raiding or end game content – there’s plenty of questing for players at all levels. There’s also a robust crafting system - each new update introduces more crafting recipes – and an innovative PvP system for the competitively-minded.
There are two LOTRO guilds, known as Kinships, making up the Division. The Osgiliath Guard, playing on Elendilmir, are the NA/Aus contingent, while The Order of Gilthoniel, on Evernight, form the EU Kinship. It’s been just over two years since LOTRO was introduced and, in that time, both Kinships have had their ups and downs; both have lost and gained players, leaderships have changed… all the usual things that happen in gaming guilds. However, in recent months both Kinships have seen a steady increase in new members, with about 20 joining the NA/Aus Kinship in the last month alone.
It’s not necessary to love the novels, but plenty of us do, and, after every new update there’s the inevitable picking over of the bones and cries of: “Would Tolkein have approved?” For what it’s worth, we think he probably would have done.