Turbine recently released its 2007 MMORPG Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) as free-to-play. The entirety of the game and its Mines of Moria expansion has been made free for download and registration. Adopting a business model similar to that of Nexon’s Combat Arms and MapleStory, real-world money can be exchanged for rare items, classes, mounts and quests. By adopting this business model, Lord of the Rings Online is not only the cheapest MMORPG out there, but also one of the best.
The Lord of the Rings license is insanely popular within mainstream and nerd culture. The Fellowship trilogy is by far the most influential work in modern fantasy, influencing works from Dungeons and Dragons to Eragon. The richness of the universe shows in the game, LOTRO is perhaps the most faithful derivative work from Tolkein yet. Chronicling the events of the entire saga, LOTRO is more cohesive than an affair like WOW, ultimately feeling less a sandbox and more a campaign. The game is very rich in lore and backstory and that honesty to the original works shows itself in gameplay. LOTRO is a very co-op/solo oriented experience, with PVP restricted to only one zone. The leviathan number of quests, instanced or otherwise, available makes experience acquisition a rather easy task and grinding for elite titles, equipment and abilities is ultimately rewarding.
LOTRO also includes a number of innovations that set it apart from other MMOs. One such mechanic is conjunction attacks, which allow parties to perform very powerful moves by carefully coordinating attack types. Crafting also returns in LOTRO and is as accessible as ever, with resources being easy to find and systems accessible. Also interesting is the Deed system, which allows elite traits to be unlocked by completing specific tasks in an area.
LOTRO has excellent graphics and music for an MMORPG. Character models are exquisitely detailed and environments are firmly grounded in the series distinct art style. The music and sound effects characterize LOTRO’s lore very well, transporting the player to Middle-Earth and making the universe feel immersive, rich and alive.
Unfortunately, heavy PVP buffs must look elsewhere. PVP options are rather limited, restricting combat to a single zone and a minigame called “Monster Play”, where a group of players play powerful Monster characters and other players fight them with their own characters. Monster Play is unlockable only through purchasing it with real money.
The extent of content locked is also a considerable problem with the game. For one, players are capped at having 3 bags and 2 gold. Auction-house access is limited and three quest-packs are available. Crafting guilds are locked, Rest XP is reserved for VIP members and customer service is restricted to the forums.
Despite the many limitations that the Free-to-Play model provides, the free version of LOTRO is one of the best MMOs on the market with its rich and interesting universe, accessibility and character customization options. Those who can afford to pay monthly subscription fees get access to the VIP version of LOTRO are in for a real treat. Highly recommended, 4.25/5