LOTRO: City slicker

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Generally in MMOs and CRPGs, I am not a big fan of large cities. I don’t like feeling lost or disoriented in an area, and many times these places require a lot of frustrating questing as you try to figure out where you need to go next. Small-to-medium villages are my preferred haunts when it comes to civilization.

It doesn’t mean that I can’t be impressed by the scope of dev-created metropolises, of course. As I’ve been exploring Minas Tirith over the past week, even though it’s a huge city and not my cup of tea, I can’t help but be impressed by its scope and design.

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I know that there was some not-inconsiderable concern about the creation of this iconic city for the game before it came out. Turbine’s been winding down in resources and developers, and at nine years into a game, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the team would take as many shortcuts as possible in trying to tackle massive projects like this.

But the weird thing is that the devs didn’t; Minas Tirith is easily the most impressive city in the game. I went into it thinking that it would be mostly a facade — a bunch of generic building fronts with nothing to show behind them. But it’s a genuine city full of details and places to explore, and I’ve been screenshotting like crazy while doing it.

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Minas Tirith had to be a significant technical challenge, especially in trying to create it without divvying it up into instances. It’s a seven-tiered city with a jutting pier, with each tier rising higher than the last (and being somewhat smaller than the tier before it). In fact, the first mission you get in the epic is to travel from the bottom to the top, a task that took longer than you’d think as you have to keep traversing the city looking for ramps and trying to make sense of the somewhat-cluttered map.

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I did have a few geek moments, like when I saw the white tree or the Houses of Healing. What impressed me the most, however, was how the devs made the tiers nicer and more affluent the higher you went. You start down on the worker’s tier, which is both the largest and the grungiest. As you head higher, the tiers show more polish and even greenery, until you reach the very top.

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I had a sinking feeling that with all of the work done with this city, the epic story wasn’t going to scoot us through it quickly. And I was right. I’m still wallowing in many quests to help prepare the city for the coming battle.

I’m complaining here not just because I want to escape the urban setting for more pastoral landscapes, but because the technical ambition of the city translated into a heavy load for my cruddy computer. I’ve been sticking it out, but man my frame rate took a massive hit in this city. As in, I’m probably in the teens if not lower most of the time, making riding around a frustrating experience.

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And while some of the quests have felt worthy of my Middle-earth hero status, some are just busy work that could’ve been handed off to a servant instead of a soldier packing a broadsword. The devs are obviously trying to get the most mileage out of Minas Tirith, but I’m starting to come to a breaking point here.

Probably the worst example was a quest where I had to go check the food stores in two locations, including one all of the way at the bottom of the city. Now, there are stables to help transport between tiers, but you still have to run between them, and this particular quest sent me from the second-highest tier all the way to the lowest and back about four times. Up, down. Up, down. Up, down. Up, down. It got to be ridiculous, especially when I was going between areas just to say one thing to someone and then come back.

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At least Minas Tirith has personality and a sense of life to it. I love the touches such as the above
“oliphant” in one of the taverns serving as target practice for bored and drunk soldiers.

My goal is to completely catch up in the epic book by the end of this week so that I can move on to a new MMO project. Pray for my frame rate!

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