Altaholic's Anonymous: Lord Of The Rings Online

Another MMORPG, another difficult time for me to decide on a class to play.  While a great part of that comes from me wanting to savor more of the game than a single class can embody, a larger part of class dissatisfaction comes from whether or not the core mechanic of a given class entertains the specific needs of the player.  To these ends, I decided to do an "altaholics guide" that specifically focuses on the play mechanic.

Burglar
Preferred Role: DPS: Melee, Debuffer
Secondary Roles: Crowd Control

Out of alphabetical necessity, I started with perhaps the most complex-to-play class first.  First impressions of the Burglar reveal a simple melee combatant who uses club, sword, or dagger to artfully disable his opponents while dispatching them at speeds that rivals that of the highest damage doers in the game.  However, the Burglar is a clever creature, and to be truly effective in playing one you need to be ready to utilize a range of varied abilities:
  • Powerful debuffs, in the form of one "trick" per enemy, should be applied promptly and evenly.
  • Crowd control, though less prevalent than a Lore-Masters, are nonetheless a significant enough to take a single humanoid out of the fight for an extended duration while providing some brief stuns/knockdowns to others.
  • The means to transfer aggro between fellowship members creates a certain responsibility to watch for that.
  • A number of powerful "panic buttons," or abilities with a long timer which can potentially turn around a fight gone sour, should be kept in mind at all times.
  • Burglars are the primary class that that initiate conjunctions (powerful cooperative fellowship moves).
  • Between-combat, Burglars can opt to sneak, introducing an interesting side activity of burgling (pickpocketing) humanoid targets as well as opening up said targets to devastating opening attacks.
If you have a goal of playing a Burglar in an optimal manner, you need to keep quite a few things in mind! If it's raw damage you're looking for, a Champion or Hunter has an easier time of it, the Burglar is best suited to players who want the tools to make sure fights happen on their own terms.

Captain 
Preferred Role: Buffer
Secondary Roles: Off-Tank, DPS-Melee, Healer, Pet Class

Though the Captain feels a bit like a warrior (fighting at the head of the fellowship, shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of the Champion, Guardians, and Wardens) he has a larger goal of being the bolstering force from within a fellowship:
  • Whenever an enemy has just been defeated, Captains should immediately initiate one of a choice of "cries" which may heal allies, damage (with advantage stun) enemies, or debuff foes in range.
  • The Captain needs to be aware of the sequence in which they initiate the abilities, as some abilities trigger "Battle-Ready" or "Battle-Hardened" states which permit the use of more powerful attacks. 
  • The Captain has a Herald (essentially a pet) whose primary rule is to carry a choice of banner that provides specific buffs to all allies in range.
  • The greater portion of the Captain's abilities come in the form of buffs (such as "tactics") which should be regularly applied to the appropriate fellowship members.
  • The Captain has a lesser-but-not-insignificant capability to draw and survive enemy aggression, including an ability that makes him temporarily unable to be defeated thereby being an essential "last stand" figure.
  • When a fellowship member has been defeated, the Captain can revive them, even in mid-combat.
Because they have the ability to take up so many different roles in a fellowship, the Captain is an excellent choice for players who love to team, particularly for those who desire to take a support role that also fights on the front lines.

Champion
Preferred Role: DPS: Melee, DPS:AOE
Secondary Roles: Off-Tank
Possessing heavy armor and dual wielding blades, the primary joy of playing a Champion is just watching those limbs flail about, raining death.  In execution, there's nothing too fancy about this class:
  • A lot of the player's attention will be on accruing "fervour" points by performing certain abilities and then spending them on more powerful abilities.
  • Many abilities will provide a self-buff, boosting the Champion's odds, but some can only be applied after defeating an enemy.
  • As a top-rank damage doer, quite a bit of threat can be gathered on the Champion, who should be quick to transfer it to the appropriate fellowship members.
  • Many of the attacks of the Champion are area-of-effect based, requiring attention to positioning to assure the largest number of foes are caught.
  • The Champion possesses a few effective "panic buttons" for when they (inevitably) gather a bit too much attention.
With their heavy armor and threat transferring abilities, the Champion is a dream class of anyone who wanted to have the power of a dedicated damage doer but was always bothered by a general sense of helplessness in enduring the counterattack.

Guardian
Preferred Role: Tank
Secondary Roles: DPS: Melee

Compared to most classes, there are significantly less overall "active" abilities on the Guardian, a large number of them became "passive" abilities related to elaborate armor and equipment use.  In addition to a smattering of relatively standard melee attacks, the main thing a player of a Guardian need to worry about are:
  • Utilizing their many threat-grabbing abilities.
  • Which stance to assume: defensive, offensive, or something in the middle.
  • Other than the Burglar, the Guardian is the only class that can start conjunctions.
As a Tank, watching for potential aggressors and keeping attention on themselves instead of weaker fellowship members is the hardest and most important thing a Guardian has to do.  There are two primary tanks in LOTRO, the Warden and the Guardian: a preference towards the Guardian makes sense if you're either looking for less complicated game play or greater resistance to sudden spikes of damage.

Hunter
Preferred Role: DPS: Ranged
Secondary Roles: DPS: Melee, DPS:AOE, Crowd Control
Another relatively-simple-to-play class, the Hunter's main focus is on doing lots of damage, fast, preferably at range.  However, they are not without a few tricks:
  • Through their attacks, Hunters accumulate "focus" points, which can be spent on more powerful attacks.  Moving causes focus points to be lost, creating an advantage to remain stationary.
  • Though most of their attacks are ranged-based, they also have a small number of melee attacks which can increase their damage even more, which may be used to quickly finish off damaged foes.
  • The Hunters can place traps which will hold or snare enemies.  Other mild crowd control includes the ability to snare (slow the movement of) enemies and fear (temporarily scare away) animals.
  • A choice of stance which mostly impacts damage (in exchange for power consumption) and the corresponding enemy aggro reaction, to an extent setting the "tempo" of your combat involvement.
  • Out of combat, the Hunters have some coveted skills such as campfire creation, fellowship travel speed improvement, tracking, or "guiding" (teleporting the party to) major cities.
If you come to LOTRO with an aspiration to be the "glass cannon," or the main ranged damage combatant, the Hunter should be your first choice.  The Rune-Keeper does comparable damage but is less durable and will probably be asked to heal.  The Champion does comparable damage and is better armored but can only operate in melee range.  Hunters are usually the most popular class to be found in the game, but there's nothing wrong with two Hunters in a fellowship - it just ends battles faster.

Lore-Master
Preferred Role: Crowd Control, Debuffer
Secondary Roles: Healer, Pet Class
Pets spice up what's otherwise pretty standard "situational caster" MMORPG experience, exceptional only in that Lore-Masters have just about all the core groups of spells covered:
  • The best overall crowd controller, bar none, capable of mesmerizing or stunning more foes than any other class.  Consequently, playing a Lore-Master involves keeping a constant watch for what can and should be controlled.  (There is frustration to be found in throwing a mesmerizing affect on something that is just going to be awoken anyway.)
  • Their debuffs are substantially potent, capable of tipping the scales heavily when properly applied.  Making sure the right debuff is applied to the right foes and as often as possible is a large part of a Lore-Master's responsibility.
  • Their pets are the most fully-featured pets in the game.  Making sure the right pet is sicced on the right enemy (and not wandering off, aggravating the entire map of enemies) is a crucial.
  • Though the Lore-Master is a poor choice of a primary healer, they do have a powerful ability or two which can be a saving grace in an emergency, and are masters at negative status effect removal.
  • Though the Lore-Master is a poor choice for a primary damage doer, they nonetheless have abilities which can contribute surprisingly effectively to raw damage output.
Of the two "cloth casters" offered by Lord Of The Rings Online, the introduction of the Rune-Keeper provided a long-overdue outlet for those simply looking for raw effectiveness in doing or undoing damage.  The Lore-Master is an odd duck, he does his damage where most won't see it, and undoes damage by preventing it from ever happening.  The Lore-Master should primarily interest those who savor the originality of working miracles through a subtle influence.

Minstrels
Preferred Role: Healer
Secondary Roles: Buffer, Crowd Control
As a Minstrel, you are essentially twisting songs as rapidly as you can activate your hot keys, stacking as many of the best buff icons in your tray as possible, while keeping an eye on the fellowship's health bars.  It's not a very complicated role, but it will keep you busy.
  • In a game where survival is about bolstering morale, the Minstrel's the undisputed master healer, capable of propping up the Tank against a determined assault like no other (though the Rune-Keeper is a close second).
  • Playing songs generally results in damage, buffs, or debuffs.  Songs played unlock higher tiers of songs while the effects persist.  The goal of a well-played Minstrel should is to secure as many of the most appropriate buffs into the ten second song effect window as possible.
  • Though not as good at crowd control as the Lore Master or Burglar, as the Minstrel can choose to briefly fear an enemy, and can hold the undead that Lore-Masters cannot.
  • When all else is lost, the Minstrel can call from their theatrical expertise and feign death, allowing them easy enough means to restore the fellowship after their foes thought them gone.
If you want to be the healer, the Minstrel is not your only choice - the Rune-Keeper is pretty good at it as well - but the Minstrel is the most specialized for the role.  It's worth noting there is a healing effect buff to each song effect stacked, which is the perfect excuse for any healer who was ever chewed out for doing more than healing.

Rune-Keeper
Preferred Role: DPS: Ranged, Healer
Secondary Roles: DPS: AOE, Debuffer
If you've played a lightly-armored magic user on any other MMORPG, you know the essentials of the core Rune-keeper gameplay mechanic: a flimsy guy (actually less armored than the Champions, Hunters, or Minstrels whose fellowship role he shares) who stands around chucking spells.   However, the interesting thing about the Rune-Keeper is that he is both a dedicated nuker and a healer:
  • They possess damaging spells (mostly damage-over-time in nature) that are capable of rivaling the damage output of other dedicated DPS classes, generating "offensive" attunement.
  • They possess healing spells (often preventative in nature) capable of rivaling the likes of Minstrels, generating "defensive" attunement.
  • They possess only a few weak debuffs and mob control abilities to sully what is otherwise a focus on raw power.  Use of these abilities generates "utility" attunement, which counteracts current offensive and defensive attunement.
  • You really can't have an MMORPG where one class is able to replace the role of two others unless you have some kind of novel mechanic preventing this from happening simultaneously, and the Rune-Keeper's "attunement" system is precisely this, making sure that the best healing or damaging spells are only available for use if that was primarily what the Rune-Keeper has been doing over the past few ability activations.
If you're resolved to play a cloth mage in LOTRO, your choice is the Lore-Master, who is in many ways the subtle trickster, or the Rune-Keeper, a not-so-subtle wielder of primal power.  Appearances aside, you should always assume all classes in an MMORPG are equally powerful in their own ways, and choosing the Rune-Keeper really has more to do with wanting to be an expert in quickly applying damage or quickly reversing applied damage.  The Rune-Keeper seems to be the more popular choice, both for players on a power trip and fellowships who are always looking for a healer.

Warden 
Preferred Role: Tank
Secondary Roles: Melee and Ranged DPS
Wardens share the same fellowship role as the Guardian, but possess an advanced combo mechanic that turn the very act of melee combat into a mini-game of sort:
  • The Warden has relatively few "active" hot key activated abilities, consisting of three main attacks (which build gambit icons), a few javelin throwing skills, stances, and a few interesting out-of-combat abilities, such as Stealth (second to Burglar's) and the ability to travel to outposts (similar to the Hunter "Guide" abilities).
  • The purpose of using their gambit-building skills is to set up a combination of 2-5 icons which can be cashed in to activate one of an extremely wide variety (about 50) of "gambit" abilities.  The effect of gambits includes self heal-over-times, buffs, debuffs, and various threat transfers to help the Warden keep the aggro on him.
  • All combinations can be referenced after purchasing the gambit ability, but memorizing the icon combinations is necessary to rapidly trigger the appropriate gambits as needed.  This is the core Warden experience.
Overall, the Warden is a perfect class for a player who always wanted to play the tank or melee character but desired a lot more to master about it.  As a tank, the Warden's durability and taunting capacity roughly matches the Guardian, but their self-healing approach to tanking leaves them a bit more vulnerable to spike damage.

Conclusion
By going with a core mechanic experience as opposed to a more technical ability breakdown, you are more likely to find a class you can enjoy playing.  However, if you're still having trouble deciding, then it is a good idea to do a little further research (I recommend the LOTRO Wiki) with an end game focus in mind.  After all, if you're sitting at the maximum level in the game and not content with the abilities your character class has, then you may have chosen a class that does not really reflect what you want out of the game.

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