The Ancient Gaming Noob has an interesting article discussing the pitfalls of creating an MMO around a well-known story IP. When you get to hold Legolas’ bow when he’s taking a leak or can interact with the world as a character that already has a predefined history it can hurt rather than help players’ interest and engagment.
TAGN from the comments:
Using Session Play to put you in the shoes of one of the main characters seems like a bad idea to me.
If you are allowed any freedom of action, you can screw things up. Boromir dances, makes rude gestures, and expends no effort at all in defending Merry and Pippin.
If you are not allowed any freedom of action, why bother putting you in that situation rather than just running a cut scene.
Job Done Well
LotRO is ever walking that perilous line. I thought the Amarthiel / Narmaleth quest line in Book 1 hit all the right notes for a parallel quest to that of the Fellowship. She wasn’t in the books and played no part in the story as done by Tolkien but it gave the players a threat to tackle which plausibly would have to be dealt with so the Fellowship could continue unimpeded.
I also enjoyed the cut scene / session play parts in the Mines of Moria where players could see through the eyes of a dwarf survivor all that happened upon the finding of the Balrog and the fall of Moria.
In both the Amarthiel line and in the Moria bits, players assumed the roles of minor characters or characters created expressly for the game and did not (usually) get into becoming a major factor in the Fellowship except as a helper.
Job Done OK
Most of the content thus far has been like that above. Sometimes, however, there was content that gave me pause. Like the walk with Frodo section prior to leaving Rivendell. When I did it, I thought it was awesome. My little hobbit would of course be thrilled to have a chat with a fellow adventurer so far from home. And the fact that he had helped Frodo indirectly since my character was a Bounder made it fairly exciting.
The only down-side was when I ran that same quest again on my alts. It was amusing as an RP device to consider what my different characters would say given the exact same events and dialog coming from Frodo. My burglar may have been supportive and glad to help, my hunter (who is the uncle to my burglar) might have had sterner advice though also more practical. My human guardian probably would have told him to train up in earnest and stay behind the large men with shields.
The problem I had with the walk with Frodo is that everyone does it. Several thousand characters have had their chat with Frodo. Knowing that put a bit of a damper on things, but what are you going to do. It’s an MMO.
Job … Done
While there were parts I liked, there were also some I thought went too far. The Rangers bit in Endewaith, I think it is, seemed a little off to me. These are rangers and members of the Grey Company. And they need the help of a hobbit cook / burglar because … why exactly? If they’re short on crispy bacon or need fishing pointers, my character would likely be a benefit. Other than that, I think, by lore reputation, my hobbit wouldn’t have much to contribute to the fighting. It was the same with the Dunedain parts in Evendim – just based on the lore I had a tough time imagining my hobbit adding anything to the battles.
Dunedain: “And now, setting aside our history as an epic fighting force equivalent to none, we have enlisted this hobbit to help with our battle.”
Me: “Remember, when fighting with a dagger, you grip the handle part and aim the pointy part away from you.”
Dunedain: “Er … yes. Thank you.”
Me: “Also, don’t run with scissors and be sure to pack a straw hat to keep the sun off your head while you’re farming.”
Dunedain: *sigh* “Ok, no running with scissors on the battlefield.”
I imagine they’d find a way to get him to guard the bee as quickly as possible.
Thus far, Turbine has steered clear of sticking the players directly at the controls of a major character (that I can recall, anyway). I’m looking forward to the Rohan expansion and hope Turbine will keep to what has worked in the past.