In the interest of not sounding like a complete Negative Nancy, I thought I’d take some time to talk about some of the good things about LOTRO. This won’t be a “fun times” or “personal highlights” account — though there were plenty of those, too — but rather my thoughts on some of the things the game did well, things that other MMO developers could maybe learn from.
Bags. I hate — no, I loathe — having to craft bags. When you want to talk about unnecessary relics of old MMOs that need to die, having to make your inventory space — or find it as loot or a quest reward — is #1 on my list. (Guild Wars 2, I’m looking squarely at you.) LOTRO gave each character five 15-slot bags right from the start, and Turbine’s planning to add a sixth in the next expansion. Once you play a game that does that, you’ll never want to go back to another system. If you want us to buy inventory space as a gold sink, like in SWTOR, I can live with that. But make it simple and effortless and don’t make me have to quest for my storage space. That just takes up time and adds absolutely nothing to gameplay.
The story. Though it definitely had its slow parts, I was pleasantly surprised at how the epic story in LOTRO progressed, to the point that, when I finally played WoW, I was surprised and disappointed that it didn’t have such an overarching storyline. Initially, I was relatively disinterested in LOTRO, because every other Lord of the Rings video game I’d ever played previously had fallen into one of two traps: either following the story of the books so closely that it was overly predictable or straying so far from the established material that you never really felt like you were a part of the world. For the most part, LOTRO expertly straddled the line between familiar and new, keeping you involved with the characters of the books while also letting you forge your own story. In any case, I find it hard to get truly involved in any MMO that doesn’t have a solid “main” quest line.
Six-man groups. Maybe it’s just because I’m so used to it, but I find six-person groups to be more ideal than the “industry standard” of five. In a game with a hard trinity, you need a tank and a healer, and the other slots are generally some combination of DPS, buffing, and CC classes. Having four additional slots to fill instead of three (or two *ahem* SWTOR) allows for more variety in groups so you’re less likely to be locked in to needing a particular class. And it made small fellowships of three characters for certain instances a natural fit.
Persistent, segregated PvP Zone. The Ettenmoors weren’t always perfect — heck, it was sometimes downright Ilum-esque — but for a game with no open PvP in the regular world, it represented a great idea for people (like me) who enjoyed the notion of open-world PvP but didn’t want it interfering with our questing/PvE experience. Now, of course, just about everyone is doing it — and most of the time it’ll be better than what Turbine’s done — but the ‘Moors were the first time I tried and stayed with PvP in MMOs. Balanced PvP instances are fun (though LOTRO has oddly not yet chosen to adopt them), but a PvP zone better simulates that open, persistent world feel that people generally crave in an MMO. I think every MMO could attract more players by having such a zone.