Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
I'm not Gandalf

As was to be expected, the main discussion around Lord of the Rings Online revolves around how close or far the game is from the Tolkien lore. LotRO walks a fine line between being too faithful and not faithful enough to the lore. On the one side there are people complaining that they can't play Gandalf or a similarly powerful wizard. On the other side there are people complaining that if you start playing a lore-master you'll use more magic in the first hour of your career than Gandalf used in the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I think the balance that Turbine struck is sensible. Star Wars Galaxies was often too faithful to the lore. At the start nobody could be a jedi, but instead you had the ability to become a hairdresser. Now okay, giving a wookie a haircut is probably more dangerous than anything I did in my life, but that doesn't mean that I would want to play a hairdresser. And I don't want to play a peaceful hobbit farmer, waiting for The Scouring of the Shire in book 3, either. On the other side I understand why we can't have 500 Gandalfs on a server. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is high fantasy, a genre which is about epic struggle against overwhelming evil. There can be only one ring-bearer, only one lost heir to the throne of Gondor, and only a very limited number of true wizards.

That leaves the players on some sort of middle ground, leading a low fantasy life in a high fantasy world. Every single player hobbit will be an adventurer, which is already stretching the Tolkien lore. But none of them will be the ring-bearer. Every player who wants to wield magic, destructive or healing, can do so playing a lore-master or minstrel, which again is far more than the lore allows. But they won't be called a wizard, and the healing will be called a "morale boost", to make it fit into the world. Players will be able to adventure, kill orcs and other monsters, visit the locations from the first book of the trilogy up to Rivendell (with the locations of the remainder of the books planned for the expansions), and lead a generally interesting and heroic life on Middle-Earth. But you won't replay the story of the books, and I don't think there will ever be 40-man raids killing Sauron.

World of Warcraft is being criticized for players being unable to change the world in a permanent way; Lord of the Rings Online will be exactly the same in that respect, with even more reason for not allowing the players to change the lore of Middle-Earth. But the lore leaves a lot of things uncovered, and Turbine is making the best out of that. Lore-masters and adventurous hobbits are stretching the lore, not breaking it. And that sort of stretching needs to be allowed, because otherwise there is no game to play. Tolkien doesn't have combats in which a tank is taunting the mob, while somebody heals him and somebody else is throwing fireballs from behind. But the LotRO game will have that, because nobody has found a way yet to stage a Tolkien-like combat in an online game. And it isn't even clear whether people would like a Tolkien-like combat in an online game, because for example the hobbits are mostly busy running away in these fights.

What LotRO delivers is a WoW-like gameplay in a Middle-Earth setting. And that is all it can do. If you want a game that replays the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it would by necessity be a single-player game. And if you want a game that depicts the life of a hobbit farmer, you'd have to play something like Harvest Moon, not a RPG.
If the game stuck to the Lore, there would be no playable magic-user characters at all.
Magic is very passive in Middle Earth (mostly to do with items). You don't get wizards (even Gandalf) throwing fireballs around.
In fact the wizards were sent to guide the people of Middle Earth in a political role, rather than provide ZOMG pwnzer spell casters.
The game cannot be faithful to the books; it's impossible. People will just have to accept that.

"The game cannot be faithful to the books; it's impossible. People will just have to accept that."

Or not play it...

Well, they can choice the second option and don't play the Turbine game.
Fireballs? Just give the fire users a stash of pine-cones. They take care of wargs just fine.
There is a sense of completeness so profound in Tolkien's lore that, when I finished reading the trilogy as a kid, I felt that a piece of me would always reside in his world. I could place my finger randomly on a map of Middle-Earth and instantly BE THERE in my mind, so complete was my vision of what it would be like. I don’t think I am alone in this. I believe that certain books, at the right time in our life, can influence the person that we will become. For many folks, Tolkien’s work can be compared to the (insert Holy Book of your choice) for the impact that it has had on their lives. With all this being said, it is understandable that people will be fearful or critical of something that could portray “their” world differently then how they picture it. I can see it happening now: somebody half my age that has never read the books, perhaps seen the movies, griefing people, acting rude, and committing sacrilege in general in the world of Middle-Earth. Despoiling something that almost has a spiritual feel to it.
Maybe this all sounds silly, but at an unspoken level, that is what many of us are feeling, I bet. I can’t wait to play this game. The game just sounds FUN. But a part of me almost wishes that those who purchase the $199 founders edition could play on their own server in order to protect the sanctity of this world. Either way though, I can keep separate my experiences in this game from the memories I have of the books. I don’t want to be Gandalf, I just want to escape to his world now and then. Now I’ll get the chance.
It is not that "no one has found" a way to do fighting differently. It is the fact that Turbine is UNWILLING to TRY something different because LotRO is a make or break title for them. They are copying known game play mechanics and slapping the LotR license on top of it. They are playing it safe. I don't blame them for that, but I will damn well criticize it and I sure as hell won't pay for it.

Ultima Online had a COMPLETELY different combat system and it worked! No other MMORPG has even tried to go with it.

Once again, they didn't even try.
I will damn well criticize it and I sure as hell won't pay for it.

Are you playing World of Warcraft? Did you pay for the expansion? What if Blizzard said "on the 24th of April we are releasing yet another expansion, with a completely new continent and 9 new character classes, and the new continent is based on the Tolkien universe", would you buy it? I think a large number of people would, and they don't mind that its Turbine and not Blizzard releasing that game.

It is your right to refuse to play any MMORPG using the same old combat mechanics, but I'm afraid you'll exclude yourself from the majority of this year's titles. For example Vanguard has exactly the same combat. And as far as I know Conan will have the same. The only different approach is Chronicles of Spellborn, but I'm not sure how good that one will be otherwise.
I don't plan on playing it, not from a lore perspective or anything, more just from the fact that the game will forever be stuck in one moment in time, during the existence of the Fellowship. Four years from now, the Fellowship will still be striving to destroy the One Ring.

That, and I think Tolkien is turning over in his grave, the way his series has become the latest cash-cow.
The discussion of the discrepancy in lore and the actual game play being any good is not the same.

LotRO could have great game play. It has copied a lot of successful models and so far the word on the street is that they didn't break any of them.

My point of displeasure with the title is that LotR is THE fantasy that spawned nearly all other fantasy since. That is not something I like to see abused for it's namesake.

The movies were a great adaptation, but they weren't truly 100% "faithful". I never expected LotRO to be 100% faithful.

I didn't expect to see classes at all in LotRO... it really doesn't fit. Turbine chose classes. I can live with that, but the second you put classes in a game you have to play the semantic name game to fit the mold.

If LotRO turns out to be a great and wonderful game in terms of game play that is fine. I just feel Turbine crossed a line in adapting Middle Earth into an MMORPG. All they needed to do was build a beautiful world that did the books justice. Then all they needed to do was give us avatars to run around and interact within the world.

They didn't need classes. They didn't need "morale". They needed Middle Earth and they lost in the process.
WOW (and other games) could make it so that players change the world in a meaningful way. An instance which reflects the aftermath of a raid would do the job. Let’s take Gnomer for an example.

You’ve gone in and cleaned out Gnomer. As a reward, you could now have the option to enter an additional Gnomer instance where there are no enemies to fight, and instead the gnomes are bustling around repairing things and settling in. You’d be able to get the typical reputation rewards in there and acquire new quests.

The above shouldn’t tax the servers or unbalance anything. And it’d be great to be addressed as “Lord Protector” (or something along those lines).
Purists will have some reservations with anything that was done for the sake of providing a better gaming experience, and bent the lore in order to do that. But everyone should be realistic. This isn't some altuistic (sp?) hand wave and Tolkien and LoTRO, this is first and foremost a business venture. And as Tolbold has said, this is a make or break deal for Turbine on the heals of AC2 and DDO. They don't have the luxury of making a game/world that only Tolkien fans who play games are willing to purchase and subscribe to long term. They need gamers.

It does them no good for the book fans to buy the game, wander around for a couple of months then find they've had their fill. They need an audience that will stick around to play even once they've seen all the pretty sights. RPG games have to have adventure and active advancement for player rentention, and beside the social MMOs, that involves killing and in high fantasy some sort of magic-wielding classes. For example, that's all I play. So if there isn't a way for me to fight with magic, it's not a game I'm going to play because that's part of "my" requirements for participating in a fantasy world. I doubt that I'm alone in that feeling given the numbers of magic casters in the popular games.

From what people are saying they made some compromises. Who didnt see that coming? It will be interesting to see if they can retain people's interest because the players won't be big heroes, typically a big ingredient for many players - me among them.
WOW (and other games) could make it so that players change the world in a meaningful way. An instance which reflects the aftermath of a raid would do the job. Let’s take Gnomer for an example.

You’ve gone in and cleaned out Gnomer. As a reward, you could now have the option to enter an additional Gnomer instance where there are no enemies to fight, and instead the gnomes are bustling around repairing things and settling in. You’d be able to get the typical reputation rewards in there and acquire new quests.

According to the LOTRO documentation, that's actually going to be an active feature. I didn't see evidence of it beyond the way it was poorly implemented in the newbie zone, but I also only got to level 14 or so in the stress test. I believe the example of the "instanced world" they gave was doing a quest with friends in which a village burns down. The next time you visit, there's nothing but charred ruins. Everybody who hasn't done the quest, however, will see the active thriving village.
Thanks for the update on my post, Albatross. Based on my love of LoTR, and what I've read here, I'm going to put my WOW account on hiatus and try Turbine's LoTR Online game.

No, I'm not a fanboi or a turbine sneak, or anything like that. I love WOW, but LoTr is a long time love. "Return of the King" is still my favorite game on the Nintendo Gamecube.

I played extensively in the Beta up until L37 and I found the game to be extremely stable, a beautiful creation, with a few neat new features tied in with PvP and the book storyline.
What it does not do very well at all is immerse you into the world, as there are so many things that you simply cannot do. What you can do is generally very realistic and the quests are, if nothing else, realistic. I found about half of them extremely tedious, with the other half reasonably to very interesting. Crafting lacks any innovation, but for those happy with a simplistic system it works - over 80% of the beta playerbase said the crafting system was poor.
The issue on magic that was mentioned was also extensively discussed, with most people siding in support of the level of magic that Turbine created. At one point the magic was incredibly uninspired - you would cast spells and see no result at all - but Turbine livened it up a bit during Beta. What could be said is that every Loremaster spell has some rationale to it, so that it is not necessarily "magic". In the end I think I was quite happy with the result and Gandalf players will be ok with a Loremaster, unless they specifically hate pets.
Ok, so what can't you do? As has been stated before, you are "expected" to be an adventurer, so there isn't anything else to be done. There is no "business", no faction, no diplomacy (a la Vanguard), no pet development (or animal husbandry), no spell or lore research, no disease or poison impact, no aging, no wounds or debilitating conditions, no voice or cut scenes, and many more. Aside from monster PvP (which replaces normal PvP) and the epic book quests, which are "novel", if you haven't seen it in an MMO before, it ain't in LOTRO.
So, would I recommend it? I think it's worth a try. It held my attention for about two months during beta - not bad and not good - and it is a lot better now than it was in beta. Grouping is fun, solo is less fun. If you do try, then don't leave before you get to Rivendell, as that has a few surprises. Also, if you have poor eyesight, then you will find it hard to read the quests and there is no voice at all, so it might be hard going. Even with reasonable eyesight myself, I found having to read pages of quests with complicated names and long words a bit like hard work, not unlike the book itself:)
(scytale2 from the European forums)
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