Lord of the Rings Online is Turbine's answer to World of Warcraft. I have to admit, that when it launched, I was unimpressed with it. It was difficult to play, the graphics were not very good and it seemed to be very buggy. It didn't hold a candle to World of Warcraft. It was however, the second best MMORPG that I had played at that point. Easily outpacing the dreadful Final Fantasy 11 and lackluster Warhammer Online.
At the time I had not played Age of Conan, Guildwars or Everquest 2. I've played those three now as well. Guildwars is fun, but suffers from scale problems. It's not a very large game, and its updates are few and far between unless you want to shell out for the expansions, some of which are still going for full price despite the length of time they have been out. Age of Conan suffered from simply being excruciatingly difficult once you got into the "real" world.. huge grinds against enemies who easily outclassed your pitiful character, not to mention the ever present threat of randomly being killed by assassins. Everquest 2, I played at the behest of a friend. I'd grown up during the Evercrack fear mongering, and had never given it a second thought. Not to mention, I didn't have Internet during most of the time it was out. But EQ 2 was something of a surprise, it was generally pretty fun, it just had really poor graphics for a game they expected you to pay for.
I quit playing WOW a little over a year ago, I had completed all of the quests included in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. And one day it dawned on me how silly it was to keep shelling out money to loiter in Ironforge while waiting (usually in vain) to run the same dungeon I'd already run 50 times again. So I just stopped putting coins in the machine.
But recently, Turbine, who has Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online have converted them both over to a free to play via micro transaction scheme. I had played DDO this way, and didn't think much of it, but then DDO was apparently a pretty lackluster game to begin with. But when I saw they were fixing to have a Beta for LOTRO, I jumped at it. I can't say much, as I'm pretty sure I signed away my soul when I agreed to their EULA for the BETA.. But now that the actual game has launched. I have to say, I'm impressed.
They have clearly fixed some of the annoying problems the original had, toned down the monster and quest difficulty (sometimes to the point of being silly, but still) and the fact that you have to pay to unlock various things dosen't really negatively impact the game, at least not so far anyway. You have to unlock certain questing areas, but most of them unlock pretty cheap.. and certainly cheaper than paying a monthly subscription. And it is a style of pay for play that I feel vastly improves the over all experience. I don't feel as if I have to keep playing in order to get the most for my money. If I don't want to play at all, I've not lost anything. If I wanted to play a lot and run out of stuff to do, I can pay a bit (usually about 10$ for 100 - 200 new quests) and continue to play.
I'd not say the game is as much fun as WOW is, but WOW has a sort of homey cartoony feeling that is extremely inviting. And it is marked forever as absolutely being a Blizzard game. Lord of the Rings Online, dosen't really succeed in meshing with either the books, nor the live action films. But the people who assembled it clearly know their Tolkien lore, even if they have had to invent a tremendous amount of geography in order to fill in the blank spaces. In the North Downs, you can even do a quest for Trotter. If you don't follow that reference, you need to turn in your Tolkien fan card at the door on your way out.
And they give away the soundtrack for free. It's on Fileplanet.com, and if you ever need some good background music for a D&D game, or something along those lines.. its quite good.
I plan to play Final Fantasy 14 at some point, but currently all I've been able to find are the extremely expensive Collectors Editions. And since I have to pay for it every month, I don't really want to shell out two months subscription just to get an Onion Helmet. I'll give it a shot once I can play a demo.