Returning to an MMO after an eight-month absence, after barely playing for a month, is like waking up in a strange grocery store after a vicious blow to the head left you with amnesia. You've got this shopping list in your hands, but you've got absolutely no idea where any of these items are. It will say things like "Ned wants milk. You can find the milk southeast of me." Who is Ned? Where was he when you met him? Where is "southeast of him," when you've got no friggin' clue where he is?
Such was my return to Lord of the Rings Online. I had a quest log full of tasks that were almost familiar to me, but my memory lacked the proper synapses to form where they began, and more importantly, where I had to journey to complete them. I found out the hard way that "the hills northeast of Bree" are not the hills on the map in North Bree-lands, but rather a small cluster of hills more on the west side. In the process I drove a friend of mine crazy with my mindless ranting about how the quest descriptions couldn't have gotten more vague if they tried.
After a while I got my groove back. I remembered where Brandy Hall was in Buckland. I remembered where the auction house, the trainers, and a few more quest-givers were. Once I had a sense of reference I stopped harassing my friend about "where the frack was this dude" and became familiar with the Google maps portion of the Lorebook on the official site-a nifty feature added after I stopped playing. Instead I started complaining to her about why all these gold resellers are hawking their wares in the middle of Bree? In three years of World of WarCraft I've added none to my ignore list. I fear there's a cap to my ignore list in LoTRO because at the rate I'm adding those bastards I'll hit it by week's end.
LoTRO in many ways seems unchanged from my last visit in May. I was afraid there'd be few low-level folks, with the mid-teens areas barren. I was wrong. My fears of having trouble completing early Chapter quests have proven somewhat unfounded as I see people still "lff-ing" for the chapter I'm on. Since launch Turbine has added a ton of content, but due to my still low-level it's largely irrelevant. I do hear from friends that Evendim (new content added around June) has given the 25+ crowd something to do. I recall that being a complaint when I last played.
After hitting 70 in WoW recently and having some adjustment problems to this whole "don't need to gain XP anymore" bit, my curser wandered over the LoTRO icon on my desktop. I reminded myself I had still had a little more time left on the account, and, really how bad could the patch be? Not that bad, I found. After about an hour I was patched up, back in game, and wondering what all these buttons did.
My goals were really quite simple, in a geeky way. I'd swapped out my behemoth 21" CRT monitor that was the size of the Death Star for a sleek 19" LCD widescreen that I could plug my Mac, PC, and Xbox into and switch between them all easier. All I wanted to do was load LoTRO and set it to the new resolution. That took about five minutes. After three hours, I realized I'd gotten hooked on the game again. The aforementioned friend went from being exasperated at my bumbling around to being quietly amused and muttering things about me "finding the one true MMO." Well, ok, she didn't put it quite like that.
Once I hit seven consecutive days of playing the game, even for a little bit, I realized my renewed interest was not fleeting. I realize this may sound a tad "cry me a river," but one of the problems of covering a variety of MMOs is it's hard to get roots in a game. My old EverQuest 2 guild used to joke that I served as a sort of early warning device for big content patches; if I was logging in, it was because something newsworthy was about to occur. Because of that, my friends tend to view my commitment to MMOs in the same way they view Lindsey Lohan's commitment to sobriety.
It would be disingenuous of me to proclaim that my newfound love for LoTRO was boundless. However, it has become a solid choice for my leisure MMO-the MMO I play just for kicks, not to cover. This piece became a happy accident from playing again; not the reason I logged in for the first place.
It's not to say the game is without faults. The economy, at least the mid-teens area, seems a tad conservative. Until I got into the mining/hides minigame, upgrading my skills took a back seat to fixing my stuff. I play a guardian, and I believe repair costs for them are getting adjusted in a forthcoming patch. I still have adjustment issues with the idea of the hotkey queue. While I like the hand drawn look of the map, I wish it gave me more details. I wish the quest log gave a little more detail.
Where I think LoTRO knocks it out of the park is setting and story. Until now, I've had two "woah" graphics moments in MMOs: Seeing the ice bridge in Scars of Velious in EverQuest, and first walking up to Ironforge in WoW. I can now add a third: Standing on Weathertop in LoTRO. I haven't gotten to Rivendell yet, so I may be adding a fourth. I like how the Chapter epic quests follow the story line and you're helping the Fellowship. I like how Turbine cranks out the content upgrades. With content like Evendim costing you nothing, LoTRO's content patches offer you a good value for your money. There's a decent, helpful community in the game. I had some basic newbie questions about how to raise mining and asking them in the Advice channel yielded help, not derision. It was a welcome change from WoW's General chat.
A friend of mine recently asked me, "So, is LoTRO worth trying again?" My answer is, "Yes."