Playing Lord of the Rings Online as a First MMORPG

I started playing Lord of the Rings Online, or LOTRO, about nine months ago as part of an online course. Other than about three minutes (literally) of City of Heroes after spending hours designing my character, I had never played an MMO to that point. This post is about what I learned, geared towards first-time MMO players and beginning gamers, in hopes that others who want to try this as a first game will find play a bit more intuitive than I did.  I may do future guides as well that are more specific to the game, and probably something about playing LOTRO as a Tolkien fan (which I could easily geek out about for an entire post).

An avatar of an Elf standing on ruins, making a goofy face with a glowing hand.
Glorfindel is having a moment.

What are the important traits of a LOTRO character?

When you start playing LOTRO, the character creation is fairly simple. You don’t need to spend too much time on aesthetics—the important choices are your character’s race and class. A word of caution that applies to other parts of the game as well (and probably other MMOs): don’t focus too much on what “sounds cool” or appeals to your personality. Class, especially, can greatly affect how you play the game, so you may want to read up a bit on whom is able to do what before you choose.

On a similar note, especially if you care about the roleplaying aspect or the “massive” aspect (or conversely, if you have a slow computer), read up a bit on the servers before you choose. Your character lives on a server and you have to pay to switch. The game looks and plays the same on all servers, but server choice affects who else is there. You may want to find out where your friends are, research kinships (for example, I think the only big LGBT kinship is Knights of the White Lady on Landroval), or pick a server based on your desire to roleplay in character or speak a language other than English.

Don’t focus too much on what “sounds cool” or appeals to your personality.

I’m on Imladris, a quiet server that works well for me because my early 2008 iMac can be a bit slow for games and I don’t care for rolelplaying with strangers, but I ended up there by luck. You can create multiple characters on different servers, but in my experience as a beginner I spent enough time on the one character that I can’t imagine creating another.

As for gameplay, and back to class, your play will be somewhat limited by a few things including your class (basically the type of character you are), the branch you choose in the traits tree, and your profession (related to crafting). I chose an Elf Minstrel, which I picked mostly because I’m a pacifist who likes the arts, but I still spend most of the game fighting. Game play just isn’t that interesting if you try to spend all your time being non-violent. If you do want to be more of a support character, for example spending a lot of time crafting to create items for others in your fellowship or kinship to use and serving as a healer in battle, the Minstrel is a good choice but you probably want to be more of an extrovert.

I chose an Elf Minstrel, which I picked mostly because I’m a pacifist who likes the arts, but I still spend most of the game fighting. Game play just isn’t that interesting if you try to spend all your time being non-violent.

As a solo player, it’s mostly about killing people and creatures. Trait trees, a new feature since I started playing (and not one that I like), also have an effect on what skills you can use and what focus your character has. You have to pay to switch branches, so choose carefully. The Minstrel, for example, has two branch choices that are focused more on support and one focused more on solo fighting. I didn’t realize when the trait trees debuted that I would actually lose skills, so I made a bad choice.

What Is LOTRO Gameplay Like?

So once you  have a character (and there’s a lot more to say about that, check out some guides to learn more) it’s time to actually play the game. If you’re a first time MMO player, you probably wonder what play is actually like.

I’m not sure how universal this is, but I found that a few things about LOTRO kept me coming back (I’ve played over 200 hours so far, probably more than I’ve ever spent on a single game, though I’ve stopped playing as actively since I started drafting this blog post due to the cost of buying more regions). First, I love the sense of exploration that the game provides. The art is gorgeous and realistic, and the map is as large as you might expect for a game set in Middle-Earth. That size can get annoying as you move through the levels and encounter destination quests, but at first it’s pretty breathtaking. You get a real sense for Tolkien’s world, which I’ll talk more about in a future Tolkien-geekery post.

Screencap of a full gaming user interface with a battle at the center. An Elf holds back, glowing with healing powers.
There’s a lot going on in the UI, especially during a fellowship quest. Here, Glorfindel holds back to support his fellows with healing buffs.

Beyond the simple act of exploring a beautiful world, you spend most of your time completing quests and fighting baddies. Quests are both the storyline of the game and the way to level up. There’s something called the “epic storyline,” a series of quests that track to The Lord of the Rings books, but there are also tons of other quest options. I may go more into quest strategy in a future guide, but one important note for a beginner is to understand that quests correspond to level. I was initially impatient to get to familiar areas such as Rivendell and Lothlorien, and didn’t understand that ignoring the Shire and then leveling up in Bree meant I couldn’t do anything upon return.

I was initially impatient to get to familiar areas such as Rivendell and Lothlorien, and didn’t understand that ignoring the Shire and then leveling up in Bree meant I couldn’t do anything upon return.

Though you can physically go back to a region, once you reach a certain level the remaining quests have fewer rewards and are less fun. Thus it makes sense to take your time in each region, poke around looking for quests, and use them to level up. If you keep moving and try harder quests, you may get frustrated quickly and enjoy the game less. I sometimes come back to a quest that felt hard at first, but since the rewards decline over time you shouldn’t hold off more than a couple of levels to complete something.

Quests typically involve either running errands, participating in tangential parts of the game (such as crafting, hobbies, skirmishes), or fighting. You can do a lot of the fighting solo, though there are also many opportunities to find and play in fellowships (small groups of players who complete a quest together). I’ve focused mostly on solo quests. If you want to quest in a group, especially once you level up fairly high, I recommend reading a guide or two on general MMO strategy so that you understand the roles of different members of the group and why you should plan out a fellowship quest in advance.

The creators have tried to include a range of quest types, each of which appeal to different parts of your gaming personality. I’m not sure anyone really loves the quests that send you halfway across the map on an errand, but they’re not so bad once you get a horse and they’re often intended to help you find new areas of the map.

I’m not sure anyone really loves the quests that send you halfway across the map on an errand, but they’re not so bad once you get a horse and they’re often intended to help you find new areas of the map.

When you get up in level, you’ll start seeing more and more annoying errand quests, though, where you go across the whole map and then realize it was just a trick to get you to buy a region. It’s up to you whether to buy. I’ll explain some of the issues with that choice in the next section. But either way, you may want to try to clump up a bunch of quests in the queue that are sending you to the same area and do them all at once, and/or find quests when you get there that will send you back.

Fighting is fairly self-explanatory, I think. Crafting can be fun, but its appeal is mainly in what value you get from what you make. You can find plenty of guides explaining how different crafting types help you in certain areas. Glorfindel, my Elf Minstrel, is a scholar. I’ve let him get pretty high up and am now doing Scholar’s Guild tasks. It’s fun to hunt for nodes and progress as a scholar, but I would have to pay more attention to strategy to use a lot of what I make and I’m not really in it for the gold.

How Long Does LOTRO Last?

Now for some drawbacks, or at least considerations as you dive into your first MMO. I was fairly impressed by how much I could do in this game for free, but there are limits. The gold I just mentioned, for example, isn’t really my driving motivation because in order to get as much of it as I want to use, I’d have to spend Turbine Points. TP are basically the equivalent of real money. While you spend gold on things in the game, things that will improve your experience significantly (the ability to ride a horse, extra space in your inventory, more gold allowed, etc.) cost TP. You can get TP through deeds, which I’ve explored for a while and enjoyed as a side-activity to questing. But there’s only so much you can get with deeds. The game gets pretty boring when you’re doing nothing but trying to kill a fuckton of wolves, and that’s where I find myself at Level 45, not having played in a month or two because I don’t want to shell out seven bucks to buy Eregion.

Two Glorfindel avatars, one my character and one an NPC, stand side-by-side in Rivendell.
This obviously had to happen. Glorfindel meets himself in Imladris, creating a timeline paradox to rival an episode of Doctor Who.

Thus, I have some advice for a first-timer. Pace yourself. These games can be addictive, but they won’t be this fun forever. Take your time exploring all there is to explore in the free areas of the map. Play the epic questline and a lot of side quests. Do deeds while you’re already in a region and rack up your TP for a while, until you get to something that’s really worth spending it on. Get to know the game before you decide what “worth it” actually means. I think the mount skill is definitely worth it, and it makes sense to buy more regions when you get to the point that you can’t progress. However, buy wisely. Check out some game guides to figure out what regions will give you the most fun game time and get you the furthest in terms of levels. Don’t be me, buying Rivendell because obviously Glorfindel should be hanging out there. Remember that the epic quest line will allow to progress along it for free.

Eventually, you probably will reach a point where you either put the game aside for a while, like me, or you pony up the money for more regions. Right now, I’m enjoying the free time I have that I’m not spending on gaming, but I expect I’ll jump back in at some point and either buy the next region I want or (and this is another fun option you have) create a new character and try playing through the earlier levels with a different race and class, perhaps on a different server now that I’ve installed some more RAM.

Any questions? Leave a comment. Let me know if you play, especially if anyone is on Imladris server. Do you have tips for newbies, or is any of my advice a little off in your opinion? What other guides would you like to read? Let me know!

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