Lord of the Rings Online/Elder Scrolls Online Comparison (Part 3)

lotrommoviperelderscrollsonlineNote: This post was originally written for and published by Contains Moderate Peril in 2014. as it no longer exists on that site, and because I’ve recently started playing ESO again, I thought it would be fun to resurrect the series on my own blog. Enjoy!

This is part 3 of the series comparing my two current MMO’s, LOTRO and ESO. Part 1 of the series compares graphics and questing and can be found here. Part 2 deals with advancement and crafting, and can be found here. This installment will cover Lore, Intellectual Property, community, and my final thoughts.

Lore – Providing Context

For me, there is no stronger lore than that which Tolkien created for his world of Middle-Earth. Most, perhaps all, modern-day fantasy has roots in the Tolkien stories and legends. It is one of the great strengths and weaknesses of LOTRO. It gives amazing context. Even the most casual of Tolkien fans will instantly recognize the characters and locations within the game. This provides a sense of wonder, awe and excitement when “familiar” locations are discovered or characters are interacted with. The feeling that your character actually has some outside impact on the events surrounding the War of the Ring is unparalleled in today’s MMO’s.

For all the benefits, the static world of Middle-Earth also presents some challenges. For example, how to get players to experience all of the iconic moments from the books without breaking lore? Obviously, there is no “Braxwolf” mentioned in the books, so how could he have been at Helm’s Deep and had much of an impact. The answer is, he wasn’t (in the books), and he doesn’t (in the game). Turbine’s answer to the Helm’s Deep quandary was to design an Epic Battle system where your character isn’t epic, and that has caused much angst within the player base. Similar problems loom in the future, such as during the Battle of Pelennor Fields and the destruction of the One Ring. The static lore causes the developers to dance around the core story as it is presented in the books, while trying to allow players to experience the moments they cherish most.

I know much less about Elder Scrolls lore, but from what I can tell it’s a bit more squishy and dynamic than LOTRO’s. It seems that the lore is defined by the ES series of games themselves, and chronicled in books and events that are scattered throughout. The interesting thing that I’ve heard about ES lore is that inconsistencies are explained away through history being recorded via multiple viewpoints and through catastrophic time events such as dragon breaks. These explanations do leave the developers of ES games a lot of leeway to design the story they see fit, but it leaves me wondering how much actual context can exist within the game. How do I know some future ES game isn’t going to go all “JJ” on me and reboot the entire ball of wax under an alternate timeline? That possibility makes me a little wary of becoming too invested in a continually shifting lore.

Intellectual Property – Smart Land

Of course, we can’t talk about lore without mentioning Intellectual Property, and the effects it has on the game. LOTRO benefits from its IP, probably more than it benefits from any other single factor we’ve already discussed. People log into LOTRO, and they instantly know the history (and future) of the space they inhabit. They know where orcs came from, why hobbits live in the Shire, why Rohan has war steeds…why it’s a bad idea to try to retake Moria. Unfortunately, in order to have the rights to bring players this world, a complex multi-year contract involving several parties is required. If any of the links of that contractual chains breaks, Turbine could be forced to shut down the game, regardless of interest or profitability. Not to mention, the contract must be revisited and renegotiated every few years, bringing many rumors and much hand-wringing to the community of fans. At any point, if either Warner Brothers or Middle-Earth Enterprises decides that the partnership is no longer advantageous, the plug could be pulled. if the Tolkien Estate decides one day that something or other was never covered within the license purchased by MEE years and years ago, they could decide to file suit to halt production even though they have no contractual agreements with Turbine OR Warner Brothers. It’s a tangled mess that could ultimately leave LOTRO players blowing in the breeze if something goes awry.

Community – Ties that Bind

I haven’t been playing ESO long enough to really get a feel for the community, so this is going to be a short section. My interactions so far have been fairly pleasant, though they have mostly been with people I already know, so that’s probably not a very good gauge.

I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to sing the praises of the LOTRO community, though. While it is not immune from griefing, immaturity and poor behavior, the good experiences I’ve had with LOTRO players outnumber the bad by a factor of ten to one. High-profile members within the community set a great example of friendliness and helpfulness. I’m not sure that I would have gotten involved in gaming communities at all if LOTRO had not been my first MMO.

Final Thoughts/Value

The exercise of comparing these two games has started to feel a little bit like trying to pick my favorite child. While LOTRO (the older child) has more familiarity and complexity, ESO (the new baby) is doing things I haven’t seen before in ways I haven’t experienced, and it’s very intriguing.

The one thing I haven’t touched on to this point is the business models for both titles. Funny enough, this is one thing that will actually influence how much time I spend in both games, though not in the way I expected. LOTRO is a hybrid model, which means you can play for free, pay for specific content, or subscribe. ESO is strictly a subscription title**. I already own most of the content in LOTRO, so my original plan was to sub to ESO and continue to play LOTRO on the side. However, due to recent life circumstances resulting in less free time, I’ve decided that a subscription to ESO would be a waste of money. At some point in the future, I absolutely plan to return to ESO, but in the meantime, I will continue to pop into LOTRO when time allows and place ESO discreetly on the back burner for the time being.

My advice to others? These are both great games. Take a careful look at your individual situation and weigh the above-mentioned pros and cons. Generally speaking, though, subscription-only games benefit those who can spend vast amounts of time in the game. Most everybody else would do better with a hybrid game that allows players to choose the payment method that best fits their play-style.


** Since the authoring of this post, ESO has changed to a hybrid business model that includes buy to play, subscription and cash shop options.

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