Return to Middle Earth

Posted on 8 December, 2010

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With the free-to-play version of Lord of the Rings Online finally hitting Europe I’ve launched myself back in to the land of Middle Earth.  LotRO is a game I know well, having first played during closed beta and then for many months once it was fully live.  This new release sees Turbine re-launch it in the footsteps of sibling title Dungeons and Dragons Online which went free to play last year and enjoyed a significant rise in active players and revenue.

LotRO was always one of the prettier MMOs and appears to have stood the test of time remarkably well. Turbine has delivered a lovingly crafted and finely detailed world, remaining faithful and respectful of the Tolkien vision.  The chocolate box vistas remain with considerate lodding ensuring that every view is a stunning one, arguably more so than in any other MMO to date.

Lord of the Rings 1

Critically the game sets off with good pace and finely honed tutorials, as you’d expect from a game that is (in one form or another) four years old.  Gameplay is familiar to any mmo veteran, the setting to any Tolkien-fan, and the two make an enjoyable combination.  At this early stage the free to play nature of the re-launch means nearly everything is open, only a few premier classes are cut off.  Infact you can easily play to level 20 before you start encountering the first batches of premium quests, but there’s enough free content to get you to the mid-20s, with a bit of effort.

Lord of the Rings 2

And that’s obviously the key to this re-release: premium content.  Turbine Points can be bought and then spent in the shop to add anything from additional storage space to additional quest packs.  Usefully, you can earn limited Turbine Points from completing various deeds (such as killing 50 Boar in The Shire), not enough I suspect to subsidize completion of the game, but certainly enough to purchase a few choice things.  For instance Turbine recently slashed the cost of the Lone-lands Quest Pack by 88%, bringing it down to just 50 TP.  That effectively makes it free as you’ll have no trouble racking up 50TP through deeds, and means you’ll be pushing late level 20s before needing to invest real money to continue playing.

Lord of the Rings 3

Speaking of which this release now draws on both micro-transactions and subscriptions as a revenue source, whilst broadening the potential revenue base enormously by offering a fairly generous-sized portion of the game for free.  All in all the game seems a little easier than the last time I played (which was about two years ago), which is so often the way as an MMO ages.  Levelling seems quicker, downtime is reduced, and death less likely: perfect for the free-to-play market.  Crucially the game is open, inviting and indeed hugely enjoyable without having to commit money, with an enormous amount of solo and group content.  A great game, that is surely now going to last the distance.

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Posted in: Gaming, MMO, MUVEs, RPG