MMORPG Info Logo The Balrog is in the Details

One of the major issues of games that are based on a ‘licence’ is that a lot of fans of the original work will go into the game with quite high expectations. They will obsess over the detail, often over issues within the game that the vast majority of the audience will feel are trivial concerns.

In Lord of the Rings Online, a friend and I spent a good half hour comparing the shape of the Rushock Bog to Tolkien’s maps to work out why it looks wrong. (It’s not wide enough.) Slight geographical errors aside, most often Lord of the Rings Online feels very much like the source material. All the art matches that of John Howe and Alan Lee, whose art has pretty much dominated every incarnation of the licence, from the book covers to the films. It’s not always perfect in tone, in particular fighting level 35 flies around the Ford of Bruinen feels a lot more like EverQuest that Tolkien, but in the main the game succeeds in evoking Middle Earth. Nevertheless, to the fanatic, the broad sweep of art and feel are not enough, it is the trivial details that are important.

Take for example, Glorfindel. Now a lot of people at this point will be asking: Who is Glorfindel? He is one of the characters who was cut from the film, with his role mainly being given to Arwen. That said, he doesn’t really do much in the book anyway, other than rescuing Frodo from some Nazgul. His role is bigger in the appendices. There, he confronts the Witch King and basically chases him away. It is at this point that he makes the prophecy that the Witch King will not fall by the ‘Hand of Man’. This is one of those pivotal facts about the story that people remember, even if they don’t remember it was Glorfindel who said it.

However, it is in The Book of Lost Tales where Glorfindel really shines. Along with the Silmarion, The Book of Lost Tales is the Bible of Lord of the Rings: very long, archaic in tone and pretty much only read by specialists. If one percent of Lord of the Rings Online’s players has read it, I would be very surprised. I have not even finished reading The Silmarion, which I understand is the more readable of the two. That said, I do know enough to have realised that in The Book of Lost Tales, Glorfindel is pretty badass.

Among his many deeds he fights one of the Balrogs in single combat, resulting in the death of both. Glorfindel, however, does not leave it there: he very much gets on the first ferry from the Elven Afterlife back to Middle Earth so he can keep accumulating experience by walloping minions of evil.

Therefore, when I meet Glorfindel in Rivendale, I already have a preconceived notion of what he should be like, even if a good 99% of the player-base see him as another random elf. Glorfindel crops up in two quests that I have discovered so far, and I am impressed with the results. Without going to far into the realms of spoilers, the first of these is the main quest, when you ask for Glorfindel’s aid in tracking down the Nazgul, Khamûl the Easterling. One of the nice things about this is that Glorfindel, alone among any of the characters I have met, is the only one to ask an obvious question: What do I think I am going to do if I catch up with Khamûl, exactly? The fact that Glorfindel just does not take my character seriously is a welcome change from the Hero worship I receive from the vast majority of game characters. It’s not just me he questions though, as the other quest he is in (The Riddle-Master for those keeping track) expands upon his opinions towards Elrond, Master of Rivendale, Herald of Gil-galad and keeper of Vilya, mightiest of The Three. Glorfindel thinks Elrond is a bit of dip-stick, and not a particularly good father to Arwen to boot.

And it’s probably the fact that characters like Glorfindel feel so close to the source material that keeps me playing the game. I can be asked to deliver mail, steal pie and kill wolves by pretty much any computer game out there. But hunting pipeweed for Merry, killing bandits for Aragorn and taking strolls with Gandalf… that is something I cannot get anywhere else. So as long as the Glorfindels of Lord of the Rings Online feel like the characters they supposed to, I can see myself playing for quite some time.


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