I’ve posted in the past about the importance of engaging stories in MMOs, or at least well-written stories. Given that questing generally can be boiled-down to one of a very small number of archetypes (kill 10 rats, collect 10 gizmos, click 10 levers etc), how the devs encourage the player to do those same repetitive tasks is important. For me story isn’t just the little snippets of quest dialogue that introduce, advance and complete a quest. It’s also how that task is linked to the area, NPCs and the wider lore of the world. Little, staid tasks aren’t so boring if you feel like a larger story is unfolding before your character.
Due to recent news items and other bloggers interest in the game I’ve poked my head back into LOTRO again. It’s the easiest of my long-term MMOs to return to since I have a lifetime subscription, I can jump back in to play the game without paying any money and without any annoying restrictions on my gameplay experience due to free-to-play account status.
Playing the game I’m struck anew by just how good Turbine are, or at least have been, at this overarching story telling. The individual quests are mostly the usual kinds, some are even more mundane tasks such as ‘pickup rubbish’ or ‘deliver a letter’, but generally there’s a wider metaplot for the zone that gives impetus to what you are doing. They also have that ‘following the Fellowship of the Ring’ thing going on in the background as an über-metaplot (to rule all the meta-plots).
After my recent musings on Everquest 2’s issues with the lack of apparent overarching storytelling I find LOTRO storytelling to be much clearer. I have the dual-layers of metaplot clearly stated in text and video vignettes to motivate my character’s journey across Middle Earth.
Playing for a while though does remind me of certain annoyances with the game that I’ve long had. The combat isn’t quite as engaging as in other MMOs and the lack of creature variety due to the lore-guardians that approve all content can also be a downside. I’m sure this dilemma is one reason why I’ve been jumping between MMOs over the years, no game in my mind has all the pieces right. LOTRO is a game I’ve come back to more than most, however, so does good storytelling trump all other concerns in the end?