I enjoyed playing Lord of the Rings Online for the three months I played. I didn’t get a character to max level, but I did bring a Captain and a Minstrel to around level 40. I found that once I had chosen a character class and set out into the game world, playing the character was fun and the content was good enough that I had little problem soloing my way through most of the character advancement I saw and engaging in limited group play when it became appropriate. The standard MMO leveling process that LotRO leads its players through is familiar to me, so playing the game was a comfortable fit.
Where LotRO failed: Never did I fully grasp the capabilities and intended roles of each class. It seemed to me that the classes had a diversity of abilities to fill different roles to varying—mostly quite small—degrees. Every class can solo effectively and every class has some usefulness in a group scenario—probably more so than in WoW—but I did not find myself getting excited about potentially playing any other class. Never did I look at their abilities and think that such a class would be able to fill the role I’d like to fill in a group while being fun to play solo.
Why did I feel this way? Because the classes in LotRO do not feel familiar to me. If they do not feel familiar, my expectations don’t match up with reality. The Minstrel class is an instructive case of this. Minstrels (or Bards) in Dungeons and Dragons and in most RPGs are utility characters that use their song to buff friends and use their guile to manipulate NPCs. Bards have a small cadre of arcane magic they can use, but those incantations are usually tricks to help them with their previously stated roles. In LotRO, Minstrels are basically clerics. This dissonance forced me to throw out my knowledge about the roles and goals that a Bard or Minstrel should have—I cannot be excited about the potentiality of playing a class of which I have no ground-level understanding. Excitement occurs only when you can project an interesting and vital future for the decisions you make—if you can’t perform this projection, the dissonance that results saps excitement and, in my case, my motivation to roll a different character. I find myself in a similar situation with every class in LotRO.
I should be able to answer this question: “What is this class designed to do well and how will it do that?” If I can’t, my motivation to play the game suffers significantly. If I can’t answer that question even after playing the game for two months, there must be a problem there.
It doesn’t matter how well-designed and balanced a game’s classes are: if I can’t get excited about starting a new character, I will not care.