Beautiful Vistas Gone Bad in Lord of the Rings Online

Lord of the Rings Online (LotRO) is a massively multiplayer online game based in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. I started playing sometime in 2009 and was happy with the decent graphics but delighted by the beautiful artistry put into the game. The vast landscapes, in beautiful shades, crafted with majestic features, was pure enjoyment in itself. But something changed…

I can tell you exactly what changed down to the specific graphics options in the game and it’s very simple: Object Draw Distance and Landscape Draw Distance were nerfed.

I have a system that can push the game 50fps on maximum graphics settings.

For those familiar with LOTRO, I have two versions of each video, starting with Distant Imposters Off and the other version will be Distant Imposter On. Distant Imposters is a hack in the game to prevent having to render 3D object models after a certain distance away. You might expect if Distant Imposters were off that you would get 3D objects to your maximum view distance. This is not the case. Instead, what you get is no 3D objects after a certain distance. You get a barren wasteland of ugly.

In the video above, note how the forest below the player pops in bit by bit. It should already be loaded in from the top of the hill. Additionally, there’s a rocky hill on the right of the player, at the foot of the hill, in full-screen you can notice the muddy texture that should be hi-res. Yes, a hi-res texture does pop in – far too late.

Here’s the same video with Distant Imposters On. An improvement, but the pop-in is still completely jarring.

In this video, note the forest popping in out of nowhere as the player runs down into the little valley and then comes up on the side.

The same video with Distant Imposters On.

Watch the textures of the cliffs in the far background. They are horribly muddy. Watch as one section pops in to a new hi-res texture while the rest of the cliff, very nearby, still has lo-res textures. Brutal.

The same video with Distant Imposters On.

The problems shown in these videos are standard throughout Lord of the Rings Online.

My real issue with these graphics problems is that Lord of the Rings Online is such a beautiful game that it really takes you out of the immersion of the game. A large part of the enjoyment of the game is the beautiful vistas which have been ruined by these graphics changes. I thought I would get over it but every time I play I notice the problems.

So, dear Turbine, please reconsider what you’re doing to the graphics engine.

If you’re interested in more examples of these issues, see my youtube videos.

2 thoughts on “Beautiful Vistas Gone Bad in Lord of the Rings Online”

  1. Bravo. I was googling for info on this problem (and how to fix it) and came upon your blog post. You perfectly described the issue and just how destructive it is to any sense of immersion in the game. Incoming angry and unnecessarily lengthy rant:

    I decided to give the game a try since I just got a new rig, it’s F2P, and it’s one I’ve always wanted to try out but wanted to wait till I could experience it in all its glory. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the graphics had aged (and the DX11 support) when I exited the tutorial and was transported to the game world.

    Then, I started moving. That enthusiasm instantly changed to extreme disappointment/disgust as I watched textures and models all over my screen pop in everywhere, completely ruining the illusion of a gameworld. I fiddled with graphics settings both in-game and on my vid card to no avail. I refuse to give this game any of my time or money till they deal with this, it’s ridiculous that they don’t give the user the choice for this option and I’m amazed that more people don’t notice this.

    This “feature” is not unique to LOTRO of course. What makes me so annoyed is it seems to be in nearly every AAA title that has come out in the last 5 years. They take one step forward by increasing texture size/poly count or adding some “exciting” new lighting/shadow feature then take ten steps back by having the engine simply not render 75% of the objects outside of a 25’x25′ square around the player. The result is the player playing peek-a-boo with the gameworld instead of being immersed in it.

    I don’t give a shit how detailed the textures or how realistic the lighting is in the small square around my character if it’s at the cost of any realism whatsoever when the character is moving. I’m sure it’s intended: screenshots still make for great ads because the problem isn’t noticeable in a still. When players end up buying the game, they’re going to want to get their moneys worth and suppress any disappointment with the graphics, ESPECIALLY when it’s a high-profile game franchise/publisher.

    I refuse to believe I’m just one of a few lone wackos that is just obsessing over a minor detail. I may be a wacko, but I know that this effect completely prevents any sense of realism or immersion. It’s quite simple: if I’m driving my car in real life, cars and stop lights don’t magically appear and disappear depending on my distance away. Likewise, while I may not see all the detail of something when its far away, the transition is seamless: things do not change from a blurry blob to high-resolution instantly. These differences are much more important than things like texture detail, lighting effects, etc.

    It’s the uncanny valley at its worst. The more these games sacrifice consistency for “realism,” the less realistic they become. Worse, it shows no sign of stopping. Instead of letting graphics hardware catch up to be able to display these worlds w/o LOD and popping, they step up the polys/lighting/shadows/textures again, completely unnecessarily, requiring the player to endure shoddy framerates and absurd graphical oddities. I, for one, am going to refuse to give any money to companies who continue to design their games this way (and let them know why) and hope others do the same.

    1. Sad as it is, I just don’t have any hope for them fixing the game. All this said, of course, I am still playing the game. I like the world they’ve realized and do enjoy LotRO for what it is. I just try to look past the graphics problems as much as possible.

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