Lord of the Rings Online is a free-to-play MMORPG with a loyal following of fans. However, the field is crowded with more MMOs than anyone has time to really play. So, is it worth it adventuring through the Shire or Helm’s Deep instead of going back to World of Warcraft? Keep reading to find out!
Free to Play (Sort Of)
Lord of the Rings Online bills itself as a free-to-play game. While this is true, players should be aware that there are some hidden costs.
For the most part, players play this game for its PvE storyline. However, you will eventually reach a point where you can no longer access all of the story for free. Instead, you will be prompted to purchase particular quest packs for the areas you are visiting.
Strictly speaking, you can always go grind yourself to a higher level and continue the overall story for free. But you’ll probably have an easier (and more fun) time if you go ahead and buy those quest packs.
Fortunately, you will have played the game for a good, long time before you have to make that choice. By the time it happens, you should know whether the packs are worth your time and money.
Even in a world obsessed with fantasy series like Game of Thrones, J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels remain the gold standard for high-fantasy storytelling. And I’m pleased to say this game incorporates more of that lore than you can shake a stick of lembas bread at.
You’ll notice plenty of references to The Hobbit, from details about the Shire to the playable Beornings. And references to The Lord of the Rings abound, as your character’s story and that story are linked together.
Unfortunately, there are no references to The Silmarillion in the game. Simply put, the developers did not have the rights to that tale.
Of course, one must address the oliphant in the room for any game like this. Swords and sorcery, elves and dwarves, killing orcs… all of this will feel familiar to anyone who has spent time playing classics such as World of Warcraft.
And it’s true that much of this is familiar. In The Lord of the Rings Online, fantasy heroes group up to defeat fantasy villains and conquer everything from minor quests to major raids.
That leaves a big question: what actually sets this game apart from the competition?
The short answer is “lots of little things.” For instance, there is no true PvP in this game (though there is a monster mode I will detail further below). Instead, the game emphasizes forming fellowships and exploring the detailed landscapes.
The classes are very Tolkien-esque as well. While classes like Champion and Guardian might feel familiar to MMO veterans, classes such as Burglar, Minstrel, and Lore-Master look and feel very different. They serve as a reminder that this game is about more than hacking and slashing.
Heck, there’s even an emphasis on music that Tolkien would love: players can enter into a music mode and use the keyboard to play songs that others can hear. You can even record favorite songs and play as part of an online band!
Another question new players naturally have is whether this game tells new stories rather than just repeating those we know from The Lord of the Rings. And the answer to this question is “yes.”
The Lord of the Rings Online does tell new stories involving new characters as a fun new way to explore the lore and locations of this world. However, The Lord of the Rings narrative is happening in the background, and your own quest intersects with it.
Some players might find this emphasis on the familiar characters and their stories a turnoff. However, let’s face facts: many players would eventually ask if a Lord of the Rings game without characters like Gandalf and Aragorn was actually a LOTR game at all.
To the developers’ credit, I never felt like Frodo’s Fellowship was overpowering my own adventures, and playing a part in their journey always felt fun and engaging.
We mentioned some of the familiar faces above, but let’s spell it out even more clearly: if you ever saw a character in a Lord of the Rings book or film, then you are going to see them in this game.
In the wrong hands, this could have been a detriment. It might have made players feel like their own characters don’t matter or that their own adventure is on the rails.
However, this game’s saving grace is that it includes minor characters and storylines as well as major ones. Instead of feeling like we are seeing only the same old characters, it feels refreshing to encounter people that were referenced once in the novels.
The ultimate effect is that players feel the comfort of the familiar while always feeling like there is something (and someone) new to discover.
Traditional PvP is familiar and a bit exhausting. It is usually typified by high-level players raiding and griefing low-level players. It’s understandable that The Lord of the Rings Online omits traditional PvP, but it substitutes something very unique in its place.
The mode is called Player vs Monster Player. As the name implies, this mode lets some players take on the role of villains such as orcs and spiders and do combat with players. While the victor cannot loot a body, doing well in these battles gives players special gear and commendations.
Truth be told, I didn’t find this mode very engaging. But it offers veteran players something new to do if they tire of raiding or simply rolling new characters.
Is The Lord of the Rings Online worth playing? I’ll answer with a resounding “Yes.”
First of all, it’s mostly free, and the quest packs are relatively low cost. You end up paying very little for hours upon hours of entertainment.
The locations are vivid and beautiful, and gameplay feels genuinely unique compared to other MMOs. I can safely say it’s the best Tolkien-inspired game ever made!