by Chris Capel
previewed on PC
The Road Goes Ever On and Online
I know what you’re thinking. “Erm, didn’t this game come out, like, two years ago? Why are you doing a preview for a game that’s been out for ages?” Firstly, it’s not been out two years, but three. Secondly, shut up, if we want to preview a game from 2007, we’ll do that.
Fortunately I have a reason for doing a preview now. Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online, the MMO based on Tolkien’s Middle-Earth and the second most popular MMO after the mighty World of Warcraft, will be going free-to-play later this year. This is a big deal, and I got me some sweet precious hands-on time with the new code to see how this madness is going to go down. Precious.
In practice there shouldn’t be much of a difference, really. The game still looks, plays and smells the same old Middle-Earth as before. If anything it looks even nicer. It is just free. But is it really that simple? Of course not!
You… Shall Not… Pay a Monthly Fee, Because They’re Rather Expensive!
Jumping right in as a normal player without any cash to their name, the game appears completely there. This isn’t a free trial, or even a severely limited version of the subscriber’s game, this is the real thing. Theoretically you could play for weeks without spending a single coin. It really boggles my mind that a game so polished and honed to perfection during three years’ worth of patches/improvements is just going to be given away.
The locations on offer on the freeplay covers all the content available up until the first expansion pack, which in Middle-Earth terms is the land of Eriador. The Shire is available, as is the likes of Bree, Rivendell, Weathertop, The Misty Mountains and the mini-Mordor that is the Witch-King’s home of Angmar. The Mines of Moria was/is a separate paid expansion, so if you join now you still won’t get that for free, but that still leaves a lot of content to be explored. For free.
There are restrictions to this freedom, but nothing that will impede progress or fun, and very little that will give paying players a significant leg-up, which can be the bane of micro-transaction-based gameplay. So what can you actually get with your cash?
An Internet Shortcut to Mushrooms
Just like with a peep show, having money entitles you to see a hell of a lot more. For starters, you only have one character slot in the free version, so you will have to pay if you want to create more. Paying customers can also get up to five inventory bags, while free-players have to make do with just three. Trust me, that will start to bite very quickly.
The major expansions, Mines of Moria and Siege of Mirkwood, both have to be paid for as mentioned, but the recently introduced character classes Warden and Rune-Keeper need to be too. The Rune-Keeper, the game’s slightly-canon-breaking magic class, is particularly fun so that is a bit of a burn. The in-game auction house, a really useful player-run shop for finding everything you can possibly need such as specially crafted goods, is accessible – but only to buy, not to sell.