I’ll preface this by saying that I still know virtually nothing about LOTRO. I haven’t read any “Noobs’ Guide to Middle Earth”, barely skipped through the manual, and I haven’t looked anything up on a wiki or Thottbot clone. These are assumptions that I’m making from a position of ignorance. I want to experience everyone new, and I don’t want to spoil it.
But you know what? I sincerely hope that I’m right.
The human and hobbit starting areas are set around the town of Archet, which you have your initial quests in. Other players also share the environment, so I would assume that this is not an instanced area. It’s a nice, clean, quiet town, no signs of trouble aside from the guards at the gate and the odd refugee about.
Upon completing the initial series of quests, you move onto the next stage, and are taken back to Archet after an attack – the town is in flames, characters who gave you quests previously are dying, and you need to help save as much of the town as you can. It’s wonderful. The quests that follow start in the partially-destroyed Archet, amidst the burned-out buildings and coffins waiting for burials. I would assume that this is instanced, but it was so seamless that I never realised that there weren’t any other players around.
For me, that’s always been one of the unavoidable drawbacks of MMORPGs – you kill a boss or named mob, and he respawns. You burn a tower, and two minutes later the next guy comes along to re-burn it. Take one of those horrendously-irritating escort quests (“Hey, thanks for getting me out of that cage! Let me show my appreciation by aggroing every mob from here to the forest!”), and they’re right back there to be rescued again by the next sucker. (Come on, we’ve all wanted to permanently kill that snotty little bugger Corky.) Nothing is permanent, and you leave no permanent mark on the environment.
So what happens when I leave the Archet area and move to other locations? I’m assuming that if I returned someday, I would find the town rebuilt as new…and that wouldn’t bother me, because at that point it would make some logical sense in terms of timeline.
Sure, the same bosses and mobs will always be there to be killed, again and again…but that starting area instance was very nicely designed. There was a moment of real shock and dismay to walk through the gates into an area that you were familiar with, only to find it all in flames and the villagers fighting and dying. Ned Pruner, that nice jailor who you collected those bilberries for, is dying as his wife is crying out his name.
It felt real…and isn’t that what you want in an MMO?