A lot is being written about how good LOTRO looks, including a good deal by yours truly. And by and large, I think it looks very good. Now by “very good,” I mean that as an average grade. I guess I’m kind of a hard grader. In LOTRO’s case, more often than not it results from a combination of wonderfully greatly awsomish things and a few things that are, well, maybe not so good. To give you an idea, I thought I’d post a few screen shots of what I mean.
Here is an absolutely gorgeous bridge near Celondim by the Elf starting area. You’ll note it is intricately detailed and arches gracefully over a river with a waterfall cascading down a stone hill in the background. The Elf starting areas have a fair amount of vertical relief, so graceful curving stairways and elevated platforms in a similar style abound.
Next to the shot of the bridge, however, is a typical waterfall. Blech. Its hard to believe this is even part of the same game. Hard, angular and the speed of the animation is too fast giving the impression of watching an old silent movie sped up.
Throughout, the LOTRO team has devoted extraordinary efforts to create a truly beautiful and immersive world. Two examples below demonstrate the point. On the left is the sign outside “The Mad Badger” inn in pre-apocalypse Archet. The sign is, well, a mad badger. Just like you’d expect to see. A real sign. Not a generic sign that only reveals its content in a tool tip when you mouse over (though it does that as well). Each of the inns and other signed buildings have an equally unique designs. A very nice touch.
Next is the wall of some ruins just outside Archet. This one is a small self-contained contrast. Note that the wall texture when close up is fairly pixelated, though it looks great from anything more than a slight distance. At the wall’s base, however, the ground texture is shaded creating the impression that runoff from the wall has collected over time and deposited moisture or eroded material as one might expect. A small touch but you definitely notice these things when they’re not there.
One thing I’ve noted as a minor annoyance throughout the betas is how the graphics engine handles rendering distant objects. In LOTRO, distance objects are blurred and are rendered in high detail as you get closer. They don’t seem to gradually get more detailed or fade into the high res version, but seem to just click into the next level of detail. The nest shot shows what I mean. The detail on the cliff face in the distance is already shown in high resolution, but the top of the same cliff and beyond is left blurred. This isn’t a clever, split-second rendering on the fly effect. It persists over a fairly wide distance range even with most settings set fairly high.
Also, while terrain elements like mountains, rocks, pallisades and buildings seem to always appear, foreground objects like trees will suddenly pop into view when you move into range. At times its a bit jarring. These next two shots show what I mean. On the left, my hobbit burglar, Sloblo, is a short distance from Archet which you can see in the distance (the pallisade behind the big rock). As I walk closer, a giant (and beautiful) tree pops into view partially obscuring what I used to be able to see when I was further away…
Continuing on a theme, here is a shot of a beautifully detailed fence along a road outside Archet. Note Solobo’s shadow playing across the individual rails and the effect of the light reflecting off the different sides of the rails. Now, right next to the fence is one example of excessively angular, planar hill terrain that seems to plague certain areas. This is a theme across the landscape and one I hope they fix before open beta or launch. Green grassy rolling hills these are not, though as the screen shots above show, something LOTRO is capable of achieving, even if only in visual effect.
More on attention to detail versus the bigger picture here. I think the sheep is very nicely done. Though a static screen shot doesn’t do it justice, when the sheep moves, its fleece moves in several independent segments giving the impression that when it shakes, the wave moves through its fleece with each segment oscillating independently very much like any heavy coated animal would when it shakes. Very nice touch.
Back to the big picture, waterlines are hard and linear even though the water looks gorgeous and has come a long way from earlier betas IMHO.
Finally, the stars you see at night are the actual constellations as viewed by Tolkien from England. Here above Denoin you can see the familar sight of the Pleiades. You will easily be able to pick out Ursa Major (or Plough or Big Dipper), Orion and any other you care to mention. The only challenge you may have is that the night sky may appear a bit overwhelming to those urban dwellers who may be used to seeing only the brightest stars. If you care to notice, you’ll also see the actual moon which moves at a game appropriate rate across the sky. I’m not sure whether it phases, but on Saturday the 24th it appeared as full in-game when it should have been a waxing half moon IRL. Of course, with short game days, it probably doesn’t make sense to cycle in synch with a real lunar month. Still, very nice small touches.
With just a little more attention to the bigger world environment, I think LOTRO would be approaching WoW’s sense of environmental continuity but with a much more rich, dramatic and less cartoonish effect. Many of the interior spaces are already extremely well done, so I’m hopeful that the polish on these items gets applied before release.