Before I start this mini review, in the interest of full disclosure (yes I'm showing off my vocabulary, shut up) I haven't actually reached the end-game yet. My highest level character is 36, though I have played a considerable amount of monster play... and based on what I'm being told by others, that "is" the end-game.
So, I find the best way I review games is in sections! That way I can be pretentious about it.
This part is obviously Turbine's strong point. The PvE is well structured and there's a metric ton of it. Many quests have a hint of humor to them instead of the usual fantasy-genre kill X monsters because Y wants a new dress that they will somehow fashion from X. But even with this in their favor, there's a serious problem with the quests. Turbine just cannot seem to decide what they want the player to be.
Am I a hero going on an epic journey to save middle earth or am I just a support hero, part of something bigger than myself? Either one of those roles are perfectly fine for the genre but Turbine keeps tossing you between them like you're the tennis ball in the middle of a match. The player can't be both the sole hero and part of something bigger than themselves, those two roles are contradictory!
Speaking of quests (since it's pretty much 95% of what you can talk about in a PvE section) although the structure and variety is nice I just can't feel encouraged to go to the next questing area. I pondered why this was for a while... until one day on my rogue I just jumped up, said "screw your quests", and ran around the entirety of the shire and ered luin until I'd explored every single nook and cranny of it. At some point during this random exploration binge the thought came to mind, "if a side quest sent me here I'd be having a lot more fun with them!", and then it all made sense.
Main quests drive plotline, side quests drive exploration, mapping out, and as support for the main quest. There are too many fluff quests that send you to the same place to kill the same monster for another arbitrarily made up reason that doesn't do any of this. I'm sure someone did a lot of work on Ost Barandor in Bree-Land, and that person has every right to take a 2x4 and smack around the rest of the dev team for not sending me there sooner. The game wouldn't stop complaining at me to go to the next area so it could shout at me that I also needed to purchase that area. And no I'm not purchasing an experience lock, I buy things when I'm having fun instead of when I just want something, sort of like a donation for making something I enjoy... I was not having fun being poked with a stick every time I entered an area I hadn't grinded enough TP for yet.
I don't even know what to say here. I could come up with any number of criticisms to the lack of balance, lack of optimization (lag spikes, yes I'm showing off vocab again!), and general repetitiveness of it all. I've said it before though, Turbine developers have no talent at PvP. It's like making a teenager with the voice of a chipmunk sing a rendition of Bluesuade shoes in Elvis Presley's voice, not gonna happen if not just plain cruel.
However, if you gave that kid 7 years to work on it he might get a brain-wave, go outside and find someone who sounds like Elvis, and hire that person to come sing the rendition for him. So I have to count Turbine off for keeping the entirety of the Ettenmoors team to a single part-timer who probably wants to beat their colleagues with a 2x4 right about now. Seriously just go to EA's slave pits and find a developer who's good at PvP. You get bonus points for rescuing a tortured soul from the depths of hell itself. But I digress.
I'm not upset at Turbine for having no talent at PvP, I'm upset about them either being unable to realize their shortcoming or realizing it and doing nothing to make up for it in 7 sodding years. Their claim that they don't see any money in PvP rings hollow when it's what most people pay the VIP fee for at level 95. In fact it's likely the only reason having outlevelled and completed all previous quests.
Me like it. What? It's a good soundtrack.
I can't really give an overall summary opinion of the game because I haven't finished the free peoples quests, but I'll do my best for as far as I've gotten.
If you strip away the Lord of the Rings brand recognition from this game and instead named it, uh, The Quest for the New Age... or something... what does it really have left? If I replaced all recognition for the Lord of the Rings in this game with something else, nobody would play it.
Without the brand recognition we're left with a rather cut down MMO. Very little end-game, quests that don't really encourage you to explore (and end in the other devs meeting mr. 2x4), and a nice soundtrack. The entire game needs several coats of polish and I can think of many areas within the first 30 levels that needs a nice, hard buffing... and that could really be misinterpreted badly. I generally rank MMOs based on how long I can stick with them without getting bored, in which case this game ranks in at 3 months. That soars above weaker games like Neverwinter Online (1 month) but pales when compared to games like guild wars (4 years).
Some might say that it's enough that it's a Lord of the Rings game. Some might say that being Lord of the Rings makes up for the lack of imagination in other areas. Those people can meet mr. 2x4 too. Being lord of the rings isn't an excuse to do less work, it's a hurdle to work harder. The game has to carry the brand, not the other way around.
Overall I rate this game so far as Average. It's not very good but it's not outright terrible either. In two words, feels incomplete.