First off, I am a huge Tolkien fan, on the edge of being an amateur scholar on the Good Professor, and an old and once avid computer gamer...who retired from computer games around the time that Infocom was...er...subsumed. So I wanted to take another dip back in the old computer gaming waters and try and see what the whole MMORPG thing was, and what better one to choose than LoTRO?! I was keeping an eye out for not just rote fidelity to the source material, but whether or not the creative team could flesh out the sketchier parts of the world in a manner showing that they had "grokked" Tolkien on a deeper level than required for mere mimicry.
I am playing solo, and it seems like this is what almost everyone else is doing, but I couldn't say for sure. I am about two-thirds of the way through what I expect to be a year in this game world, hanging about at level 75, and this is what I've thought so far:
The Good far outweighs the bad, but requires less writing to explain. Yes, the creative team at Turbine really has done a heroic job of augmenting and realizing what the source material says about Middle Earth. It plays well, at least for someone who has absolutely no other MMORPG experience to compare it to. The attention to the languages is exemplary! The artwork is just stunning. Moria is a masterpiece, really. And I really loved Lothlorien. Each region is suitably distinct. Transition zones are seamless. Kudos, all around.
I think false notes can be divided into two categories: those required by the project (an entertaining MMORPG) and those that are geniune gaffes. The prevalance of Loremasters and Runekeepers and magic that feels a bit more D&D than LoTR is really to be expected for the game. I really don't consider that an issue.
But I was (very slightly) dismayed by the exaggerated vertical terrain in the Shire... I realize it is to "bound" areas, but I find the "walls" of areas off-putting. I don't know if it could be done another way, but I wish it were.
Finnish for the language of Forochel strikes me as wrong. Even though Tolkien studied it, and it influenced some of his invented languages, the form it shows up in around the Ice Bay really pulls me out of Middle Earth.
Southern Mirkwood is the one area where the terrain seems completely wrong. The quests and gameplay of the area are fine, but it is just an ordinary forest in the rain...okay, with a spooky swamp. From the descriptions in The Hobbit, Mirkwood should have been so claustrophobic, it should be designed like a tree-bounded version of Moria: you should practically feel like you are indoors beneath an impenetrable canopy with trees nearly as big as the Mallorns (but their evil opposite) creating tight corridors everywhere. The scale of the trees just seemed too small. (But maybe that will be Northern Mirkwood...?)
Rohan and Isengard are the two areas I have yet to visit.
But these are minor quips compared to the overwhelming awe I have discovering/playing this game.
I'll likely cash out after a year, because I'm not that addictive of a personality -- or rather, I am hyperaddictive for short spans. Plus, I'm old, and I tend move on from things. But it will have been a nice diversion for the year. MMOPRGs aren't so bad. Won't replace face-to-face RPGs for folks of my generation, but not bad at all.