The game does have problems though. Offsetting the obvious joy arising from Gandalf The Grey yelling at your Level 5 Dwarf Hunter to go find Gimli before Thorin sets off to defeat Smaug is the problem of finding your way. If you hadn't figured it out, Middle Earth is by no means small. In fact, to say it's pretty massive would be an understatement.
Which makes mission directions a problem.
Quests, charmingly handed out by NPCs marked with flaming One Ring's above their heads, often involve trying to find other specific characters – especially in the early levels. The directions given though range between the overly vague – "West of here," when you're standing on the far eastern border – or the needlessly complex – "Find Elohir on the road west of the ruins of Elthroien, which is north-east of here. He can be found near the northern gate."
A lot of the time the directions offered flick between the two extremes, never floating on a comfortable middle ground. Our first time in the game we spent an hour trying to hunt down a Dwarf who was only ten feet away from where we started.
It's not a massive problem in the end though. The mini-map marks out quests once players get reasonably close and, if all else fails, we found the player base to be helpful and polite though most of them were German or French in our experience.
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One of the good things about LotRO though is just how familiar it feels. Many of the keystrokes and menus are similar to those used in other MMOs and RPGs so that, within moments, genre fans will be up and running, familiar with all the skills and the new Power and Focus attributes that replace Mana – there are after all only five wizards in Lord of the Rings lore.
Some players may argue that it's disappointing that the game doesn't really innovate in the controls department, but we think that if it isn't broke then it shouldn't need fixing. When it comes down to it the control system is just a springboard off which players can enjoy the game world anyway, and if that springboard is one that players already understand and know, they can get into this incredibly massive game much quicker.
LotRO is an unusual game though in some ways, proving to be accessible to those who aren't tremendous fans of J.R.R Tolkien, like certain members of the bit-tech staff. Those players can instead treat the game as a standard MMORPG, with standard unique weapons and the usual array of quests wrapped up in a nicely made and presented game.
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At the same time hardcore Tolkien fans can swim in an ocean of melancholy and enjoy the various and regular nods and appearances of much loved characters like Gimli and Gandalf.
There is a little room for improvement in LotRO, but not much. When it comes down to it, it's feels like a solidly made, but slightly generic, MMO that has massively benefited from the depth of character and lore bought by Tolkien's work. The result is a decently built, meaty MMO that feels both warming and joyous and is only a few enhancements short of excellence.