I’ve sadly not been spending a lot of time with EQII just lately. I didn’t exactly make full use of the recent double XP weekend, aside from pushing through two levels and spending a lovely evening teamed with a female wizard blasting through beetles in Butcherblock (alliteration not intended). It was a handy chance to practice my Templar’s team healing powers, something I haven’t had much of a chance to play with during my 20’s. I’m still not entirely au fait with how they all work, but neither of us died so I guess that’s something.

I haven’t been giving the guild much love either lately, not having been in-game much – although every time I log in we seem to have gone through another level or two and are pushing 30 in time for guild halls I guess. Voice chat is an interesting spin and you can usually hear one or two souls trading tips on a good night. I’m slightly odd (what else is new) in that I log on to the voice server by default, but my home setup runs through my TV and so I don’t have a microphone installed. Hence any conversation has to be typed on my end. I usually feel like I’m listening to Dellmon over at EQ2’s-day and chipping in comments from the crowd.

Anyway, my non-EQIIing is pretty much down to juggling reviewing duties for PC Zone magazine (X3: Terran Conflict, which is huge enough a space sim game to require virtually all of my non-working hours to give it a fair shake), giving the 45-day free trial of Lord Of The Rings a worthwhile shake, and getting hopelessly lost in the stress test beta for Football Manager Live (that’s ‘soccer’ management online and surprisingly effective – I’ll come to it in a later post).

LOTRO has its charms, for sure. Especially the ‘deeds’ system. For those two of you that haven’t yet tried it, think Xbox Achievements, special bonuses that get unlocked as you perform actions. Complete ten quests of any type in a particular area and you get a stat bonus. Discover a number of specific locations and you get a title. Use a particular power enough times and you get a boost. And so on. It proffers a nice sense of progression and achievement, without having to tie everything in to running actual quests.

The world itself feels pretty solid and visually engaging (and no-zoning is a refreshing change coming from the EQII system), with nice architecture, and the character skills requiring use of combos and the like is also an interesting twist. I’m less taken with the limited feel of the main character advancements, but I’m still only in the early levels so hopefully that’ll expand as I go up.

In fact, LOTRO is a game that is filled with all manner of ‘nice touches’, even if the overall package somehow feels a little tired and ordinary. Being able to search for groups by currently active quests, dye to change the colour of your clothes, skills being grouped by lore, plot advancement through use of NPCs, a refreshing lack of ‘magic’ magic, weather – these are all nice elements that somehow don’t (yet) add up to a greater whole. There’s something missing from it all and I’m not entirely sure what that is.

It possible that it’s because I can’t see what the long-term point of it all is. In EQII I know that there are large guild events, raids, guild halls, epic weapon quests and so on all to look forward to should I ever manage to make it that far. And all of that is sort of visible to you even at the lower levels, even if you can’t possibly take part in it yet. But here in LOTRO, at least in my limited experience, none of that seems to exist. There’s no hint of a bigger picture to be seen, which is odd for a world that’s supposedly being menaced by a giant evil eye in a tower and an army of darkness.

It’s entirely likely that I just haven’t stumbled across it yet and that is all there to be found and I’m just being crap, so we’ll see.

(Edit: I’ll post some pictures of my adventures in Middle-earth shortly, once I get home from work.)