Monday 28 August 2017

LOTRO's first character update: humans & Elves

Lord of the Rings Online's recent Mordor expansion didn't just add a good chunk of depressing landscape architecture to the virtual world, it also introduced something for all residents: a character overhaul. Okay - correction - it only adds something for players that own Elven and human characters; hobbits and dwarves will follow in the future. Being a ten year old game, LOTRO could really use an update of its avatars - or so many players seem to think. It is telling that I spent my first couple of hours after launch fiddling around with my characters' new looks rather than venture into Mordor.

I wasn't the only one. The Prancing Pony (Bree) looked like this. Players were continuously spawning in and changing their looks.

Never before this barber felt so popular

Initially, I felt slightly disappointed. I think this was partly because I'm visually inclined and set the bar high. I would've loved more sliders, (even) more hairstyles and more facial complexion. It was also disappointing to find out that long hair still clips through the shoulders, especially if you're wearing a cloak (cloaks in LOTRO put two blobs on your shoulders that I refer to as the "shoulder flaps"). I think the other part of it was that I'm very accustomed to my characters' looks after having played them for ten years. The game automatically 'translates' your characters' old features into the new model and the result isn't always flattering. It usually pays off to fiddle around with the features a bit at the in-game barber to make your character feel right again. Hence why it was so busy at the barber in Bree.

The in-game interface to change your character's appearance, found at a barber NPC

My boyfriend, on the other hand, didn't have that much trouble adapted to the new looks at all. He enthusiastically logged all his characters and had them all changed in no time. After that he offered his second opinion to my still struggling self, which was very helpful.

While I was working on them, I recorded the process with screenshots, so you can get some insight into the changes and form your own opinion. Note that "auto" stands for the automatically generated look, and "new" for the final look after I changed things around at the barber. Let's first look at the elves. 

From top to bottom: 1. Ravanel; 2. Ravalinde; 3. Ravereth; 4. Ravenwë.

The hardest to do was my main character, Ravanel (1). I really disliked the way her hair clips on one side at the height of her chin (see "auto"), so I changed her hairstyle. Problem is I loved that hairstyle so much and the character is dear to me, so I'm a bit sad about not having the old hairstyle anymore. I'm not getting my hopes up, but if a developer would fix this glitch, it would make my day.

Ravereth (3) I absolutely love with the new look. She just looks extremely Elf-like and feminine. A real improvement. Ravenwë (4) and Ravalinde (2) I am fine with, too. Ravalinde's face looks a tad too bulky for an Elf, but there was no other way with that hairstyle.

Now let's  look at changes to the human character model.

From top to bottom: 1. Ravenwyn; 2. Ravalyn; 3. Laceleaf; 4. Haradwen.

One of the first things that I noticed is that female human faces look a bit chubby after the update. The "baby face" effect, if you will. They all do, no matter what face you pick. For Ravenwyn (1) it doesn't matter, because she's (meant to be) young and naive. Her new look is just perfect! I really love it. Laceleaf (3) looks great, too. She is staunch and stubborn, and looks like it. 

I'm less happy about Haradwen (4). She's supposed to be one of my older characters, above 40, but she looks very young. I never liked LOTRO's option for wrinkles (too exessive and artificial), and without them pulling off an middle age woman character with the new look is tough. Also, some hairstyles, like Ravalyn's long hair (2), strengthen the baby face effect, which is a shame.

This would be the perfect blog post if I would continue with the male character models. Unfortunately, however, I don't play any male characters, so I don't have the same amount of visual material. Boo, Rav. I know, sorry to disappoint.

Luckily, my boyfriend was able to help me out with some screenshots, although he didn't have many of his old characters stored. Here goes.

Conrad's character Fingolwë

Just wow. Male Elves look so much hotter nowadays! My boyfriend only has one, because they used to look so bad that he couldn't bear rolling more, but now they look like something you might actually want to play. Ravanel is totally hitting on this Elf, just saying.

The only thing I could criticize the new male Elf look for is that they perhaps look a bit too manly. But compared to what they looked like before, it's a huge improvement.

The new looks of: 1. Aikanar (man), 2. Thorfaer (man), 3. Eleril (man) and 4. Fingolwë (Elf)

I don't have screenshots of pre-update male human characters, so you'll have to take my word for it, but men also show a definite improvement. The new men look like, well, actual men, and I would even go so far that they show character. Do beware of the "creeper look" as shown by Aikanar (1), though (my boyfriend is going to kill me when he reads this!): if a man would look at me like that I wouldn't feel comfortable. I do like Eleril's semi melancholic gaze, though, and Thorfaer nails the grizzled ranger look.

Changes that I haven't covered here but do want to quickly mention are some extra character customization options at the barber and character animations. As for the barber: 1) existing hairstyles have been improved and it seems a few have been added. 2) Before, eye colour and body shape could only be changed at the character creation screen, but now they can be changed at the barber, like other features. (I guess they weren't eligible for in-game changing before because of lore reasons, but it's darn convenient like this.) 3) The body shape slider has expanded, allowing your character to display a broader range of body types. Women can now be made to look more muscular.

Elves and men also got new running and walking animations. Most of them look pretty neat. The one I'm not sure about is the running animation of female Elves. They tip-toe and bounce a lot (you notice this best when looking at your character from the side). I get what the developers were going for, but it looks a bit odd.


Although I have been critical in this article about some details, I generally feel the character update is a huge upgrade and a great addition to the game for LOTRO players. If you are like me and have trouble adapting to a new look of your characters, give it some time and fiddle around with things at the barber - the automatic look almost never does it right. If you still don't like what you're seeing, you can always turn the update off; there's an option to do so under Options > Adv Graphics > Avatar Update Visible or you can just untick the "Avatar Update Visible" box at the character selection screen when logging in (it's to the left bottom of your selected character's pedestal). 

What do you think of LOTRO's new human and Elven looks?


  1. Often when older MMOs revamp player-character models and people post screesnhots I can barely tell the difference. In this case, however, there's no mistaking the significant improvement. I think every single example looks better than the original, both in the Auto version and, to a greater extent in most cases, in your final revised version.

    I do think, though, that much of what players see in their own characters is colored by their conception of who that character is. While it's true that the final, revised version of Haradwen looks about eighteen years old, so does the original! Maybe you could see some signs of aging on her original face in game but in the screenshot she looks - at most - like a college student. I would also say the original is, if anything, more baby-faced than the new version.

    Overall, though, clearly a success. I look forward to seeing what they do with Dwarves and Hobbits, although, really, a dwarf is a dwarf is a dwarf...

    1. Cool to read your assessment of the update. ^^ And I agree, it always was hard to make believable old characters in LOTRO (and in all other MMOs I've played, for that matter). To me Haradwen's earlier version had some measure of agelessness that's now completely gone. But otherwise I view my characters as an upgrade.

      Generally speaking, people that play multiple MMOs (like you) seem to like the update, while oldtime players that exclusively play LOTRO hate their characters' new looks (they don't comment here, apparently, but I've seen their reactions on other social media). I think it's exactly like you say: our conception of who our characters are colours our perception of the update. Only when you take a step back, you are capable of seeing it in perspective. I imagine there are a lot of players that don't want any change (whether they're aware of it or not), so it's a good thing that the option to turn the update on and off is there.

  2. It's a bit more realistic, but it's not a drastic overhaul. I think that devs are reluctant to rock the boat on character updates. It's not like Galadriel is suddenly going to turn into Cate Blanchett.

    Still, I think I need to tweak my toon a bit to reach that Elven look I wanted.

    1. I agree, and I think other factors are limitations of the game engine and the aim to make the new character look fit within the design of the game stylistically.

      I think they did a nice job considering. It's funny to see that many old time players are really hating on the update, though. I think that has a lot to do with disliking change. A lot of LOTRO players are very set in their ways.

  3. I really like the updates. Especially on the males! I remember griping to my husband that the males looked way worse than the females previously. Happy to see them looking great. I like how they've redone the lips. They don't look so pasted on.

    Looking at my Beorning though, it seems like they need the update along with the dwarves and hobbits yet.

    1. I agree, it's especially nice for male characters! I'm not sure what the plans are for the Beorning. I had half expected them to be part of this update. Granted, they do look slightly better than the original characters already, but it would be silly to just skip them entirely.

    2. I do hope that Beorning gets a turn. They could use some better looking hair. hehe. I do agree that they look better than the original humans and elves though.

  4. You made me patch up LOTRO just to check on my minstrel! I have to say these changes look good to me. They aren't too drastic; they just softened certain features a bit, so both eyes and lips look less bulging and cartoony. The elven eyebrows also don't look nearly as "evil"/grumpy anymore. XD

    1. That's a great way of putting it: less cartoony. And because of that, the new characters fit better with the game as well. LOTRO was always about realism in its game design (even though it might be hard to imagine now since it's ten years old). Back when it was new that's what drew me to the MMO - the cartoonyness of WoW just didn't appeal to me, and without LOTRO MMOs would never have stuck for me.

  5. I play a lot of elf and human characters, both male and female. Overall, I am happy with the update, and I really like my High Elf as well, buy there are few riding animations that annoy me on them also, I wish they had more control over hairstyles on all of the characters. I really hate the clipping and I've been known to change a character's hair if the new outfit clips it too much.

    1. I so agree with you on the hairstyles! If I were a dev, the clipping is one of the first things I'd work on with something like a character update. But as usual, I think it's a lack of time and resources that's to blame.

      On another note, my female Elves are secretly super jealous of the male Elf hairstyles. "Why don't *we* get to wear cute small braids and golden leaf hair ornaments?" I was hoping similar ones would be added to female High Elves at least, but I haven't seen anything of the sorts yet.

  6. I've been in other games - like Conan Exiles - so have yet to update the game. Can't wait to see what my characters look like as yours & Conrad's seem to generally be good improvements - subtle but better. I'm not sure if I have many old screen shots though - my partner does.

    I'm afraid that I won't get to Mordor now as had a serious health scare.occurred and forced my 'bucket list' to change Aiming to max out 3 characters in 3 games but LOTRO seems too massive a challenge - so choice at the moment is SWTOR, Conan Exiles and Defiance...but I could be persuaded to change.

    1. If you log into LOTRO for the first time and are curious about before and after for your characters, just untick the Avatar Update Visible option (as described above) and take a screenshot of your (old) character before you turn the update on and start fiddling at the barber. For me, putting them visually next to each other like this really helped see how much of an improvement it was. It also helped coming to terms with the change of my characters' looks that I was so accustomed to.

      I'm sure at some point Middle-earth will call to you again, as it always has. By then you'll have the great advantage of playing duo, which is really nice in Mordor. There are also some other tricks to make it easier and get some good gear (I can imagine that's nice when your health is in a particularly poor state), so feel free to ask when the time is there and I can help out with some tips.

  7. Thanks, Rav, for your kind offer of helpful tips. I started checking the haircuts last night, but I couldn't get a better face on my human females just different - so I need to get used to new look. The temptation to come back to Middle Earth was strong last night so...

    1. I also posted this article on Facebook and Twitter and there people's reactions are overwhelmingly negative (mostly dedicated LOTRO players there). Honestly, like you, I think it mostly has to do with getting used to change. Lots of LOTRO players are *very* set in their ways.


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