Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online was actually the first Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game I ever tried. I don’t play regularly anymore, but I hold a fondness for the game and the characters I built and played, and occasionally nostalgia will cause me to fire it up and charge around slaying orcs for a bit. All-in-all I found it to be a well-constructed game that’s fairly easy to learn and makes an effective starter game for people new to MMOs. Gameplay is standard for action RPGs, graphics are lovely and I’ve watched them improve as the game has aged, and the story is well thought out and does a decent job building upon the lore created by JRR Tolkien in The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and Silmarillion. I like, too, that the game isn’t a slave to Peter Jackson’s LotR movies. Rivendell and Bree are far more colorful and alive than in the films, and Turbine saw fit to include left-out characters like Bill Ferney, Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, and Glorfindel. Though not remotely to scale with the ‘real’ Middle Earth, the game world can still be measured in tens of kilometers and offers players plenty of landscape to travel and explore.
But to me, the aspect of the game that Turbine did better than any other MMO I’ve seen is keep the characters properly outfitted in their fight against the enemy hordes. Firstly, the costuming system the most extensive I’ve seen, players being allowed to customize armor, traveling attire, and caster robes in whatever manner they feel fits the character. They are even allowed multiple wardrobe slots they can swap between in case they want an outfit for traveling versus for heavy combat. But best of all, none of the outfits are gratuitously sexualized! (In fact, even undressed characters wear conservative undertunics, rather than swimwear like in most games.) And other than a few fancy, low-cut dresses, pretty much all of it looks like something that a smart adventuress might wear on the high passes of the Misty Mountains or in the lowest depths of the Mines of Moria.
To demonstrate, I’ve asked my four Heroines of Eriador model some of the outfits I’ve seen or accessorized from the costumes and equipment available throughout the game. (It is not the same as playing with paper dolls. Shut up…) I should note that there are some excellent armors available in the Riders of Rohan and Rise of Isengard expansions, but none of my characters are high enough level to attain these. Click on images for the full-size view.
I’ll go ahead and start with the least-effective, most-sexualized outfit I’ve found in LOTRO. It’s a short sleeved, decorative gown that offers no protection from orcish blades and would be ruined forever by a five-minute trek through the Midgewater Marshes. I could see this sort of working as a spell-caster outfit for the Rune-Keeper, Lore-Master, or even Minstrel classes—assuming they have decent support and aren’t fighting some place with water, mud, foliage, or snow. While my Captain here has a banner-carrier she can summon to support her in a fight, as a strictly melee character she’ll need better protection in the middle of a scrum.
There are plenty of other dresses available, with varying degrees of durability and skin coverage, but I find that this particular one exposes the most epidermis and quite honestly looks the most delicate. As a worst example, however, I find this to be a welcome contrast to the lingerie that other games try to pass off as proper battle attire.
Armor grade: C-
Next, my Champion sports a suit of ornate elvish armor and cloak. The ubiquitous travel cloak keeps her head and armor protected from Middle Earth’s rain, wind, and snow. Plated spaulders protect her shoulders, and the nubbed spikes across them prevent blows to the shoulder from being deflected toward our heroine’s head. The armored plating borders on overly ornate, in my view, but such embellishments are typical of elven smiths. And regardless, the plates on her chest and hips will protect from the bite of orc sabres and goblin arrows as well as any man- or dwarf-made plate. Her leather gauntlets allow her unhindered crossbow and claymore handling, protecting the backs of her arms with additional bracing. Beneath the plating she wears a light chain mail to protect from orc swords and clubs.
If I have an issue with the elf armor, it’s the sculpted chest plate. While the boobs aren’t sculpted individually—and thus there is no cleavage wedge to crush our Champion’s sternum—it still increases her combat profile and unevenly distributes the force of hits to her torso. This could be the result of intended sexualization on the designers’ part, but I think it’s more likely that the armor has to go on over the 3D model they used, so they can’t flatten the chest without cutting off her boobs—for which they would need to create and incorporate a new 3D model, which takes up that much more game memory.
Armor grade: A-
Originally, this buckskin-clad elf Huntress costume was a deliberate contrast to the dozens of elf hunter-types in green tights that I was seeing when I first started LOTRO. Though these have since tapered off, I liked the look and decided to roll with it.
Though able to handle a fair amount of melee, the Hunter class is designed primarily for ranged damage, and thus it makes sense for her to wear lighter armor, unhindered by the weight of chain or plate. The cocked hat shades the sun from our heroine’s eyes as she sights in on goblins on the North Downs. The segmented leather spaulders keep our elf’s shoulders safe against disabling blows. Leather gloves protect her hands from wear and tear from bow-handling. Though the robe looks to be fairly light leather, the vest and hip padding should protect against sword and deflect glancing arrows.
Armor grade: A
As I said above, as a character with no ranged attack, it makes most sense for the Captain to have heavy armor in the thick of combat. I think this heavy dwarven armor accomplishes this well. Her helm keeps that pretty noggin intact against even the meanest mountain troll. Shoulders are well protected by thick iron spaulders. Her gauntlets are leather with segmented plates across the back of her hand and forearm. Her torso is protected by chest and back plating, held together by thick leather straps. The breastplate is made up two parts: a thick, steel mantle to protect her upper chest and hexagonal steel plates riveted to a leather backing for slight improvement in flexibility. Thick steel plates protect her hips and upper legs, while thick, leather dwarven boots stand up to treks through the marshes, forests, and snow.
I like, too that her armor is well layered. Beneath the plating we can see leather sleeves and leggings, padded jerkin, and a chain mail skirt. These additional layers provide extra cushioning and protection the thick of battle, keeping our Captain safe against Sauron’s vile hordes.
Armor grade: A+
As a stealthy melee character, it made most sense to give my Burglar a primary outfit that blends well with the shadows, but offers a certain level of protection in close combat. I like to think this outfit accomplishes this. Shirt, pants, and hood are dark grey—excellent for creeping up on goblin sentries or infiltrating a bandit encampment. Leather pads protect her shoulders from dislocating blows, and a leather cuirass deflects spearheads and slows sword blades.
Additionally, our slippery heroine wears leather gloves for protection in knife-handling or swordplay. Soft leather boots protect her feet and keep her footsteps quiet in the dark of the woods or depths of a dungeon.
Armor grade: A
As far as light armor goes, there are all manner of spell-caster robes available to the Lore-Masters and Rune-Keepers. My Hunter here models a set of scholar’s robes. While not inappropriate for her class, they are geared closer toward the more mystical character classes. Healer and friend of the animals and nature, the Lore-Master may use the robe to store herbs, medicines, birdseed, or parchment and scrolls of ancient lore. For a character that takes the Scholar profession, this provides an excellent outfit when hunting for ancient relics or perusing Lord Elrond’s library.
I like how the caster robes look in this game for the most part. This particular set is well made and could probably pass as Jedi robes. These are durable robes, functional moving around town, exploring the woods of the Trollshaws, or excavating the ruins of Annúminas. Unlike the archetypical wizard’s robes, these are light, free moving, and don’t drag the ground. And unlike the archetypical sorceress’s robes, they cover her entire body—after all, while Breeland bandits might find bared epidermis somewhat distracting, it’s unlikely a Mirkwood spider or one of Sarumon’s fighting Uruk-Hai will have such hesitation.
Armor grade: A-
All screen captures taken from gameplay. To be continued in Part 2.