Well, I finished my free trial in Middle-Earth, and bought the game. What was
in store for me, I could not have expected, though. What I saw as only seven
classes and four races, led me to think of the class/race system as extremely
limited. I could not have been more wrong. What I found instead was seven
extremely unique classes, compounded with the four completely different races,
each with a wide variety of traits. These and other components add up to make a
finished product that is quite unlike all of the others.
At first level, one character is pretty much the same as any other character. At tenth level, they are slightly different, and by thirtieth level they are almost unrecognizable as the same class or race! All of it is dependant on what the person at the keyboard wants to do with the character.
The first class I wish to talk about is the captain. Aragorn, Boromir, and several others throughout the history of Middle-Earth all claim connection to the captain class/profession, at least in some minor way. The captain class is one who has access to various shouts and cries that affect their friends and foes, which I will go into shortly. Along with that is choice of race, traits, and an actual craft profession to enhance the captain.
The basic skills of the captain are shouts, which can be used whenever they are open; cries, which can only be used after defeating an enemy or under special circumstances; a herald, which can be used in many different ways; and heals/buffs, which will bolster the ability of a fellowship (the group).
The shouts and marks that a captain can do are fairly simple. There are a few different marks that are often the method of starting the fight. The player targets the enemy, points at it, and raises their hand courageously calling for a charge! These marks can either cause a "damage over time (DoT)" effect or mark them so that anyone hitting the target will cause more damage. On the way to the target, the captain usually issues their shout: a battle-cry that does nice damage, aggravates the enemy into attacking the captain, and places the captain in a "battle-ready" state.
Once the captain is within melee range, the fun begins. The captain has a large choice of abilities to wreak pain and agony upon the foe that was foolish enough to end up at the receiving end of a no-win situation. The captain does not have massive damage output, nor does the captain have tremendous healing power. What the captain does have is variety. In a "battle-ready" state, the captain can use special attacks that, if they critical, unlock the enemy defeat cries. Enemy defeat skills can vastly change the outcome of a fight; hence they are usually limited to being used after a fight. These abilities range from a buff that heals the party and sets up a regenerating effect on them as well, to a massive cry that damages any and all opponents within a short distance around the captain.
The special attacks are nothing to shrug at either! Some do significant damage, while others allow multiple attacks for less damage on each swing. Other basic attacks can cause bleeding effects, give the captain more armor temporarily, or gain the captain more hate from the enemy.
The definition of a captain, per the blurb at the character creation screen, is that of pets and buffs. This cannot be denied. The buffs that they can throw out are some of the best, if not THE best, in the game. They can increase party morale (health in LotRO), increase chances to parry attacks, and they also have access to arguably the best buff in the game through completion of a legendary captain deed: In Defense of Middle-Earth! This buff increases the target's stats each by fifty! In addition to the buffs, they are the second best healers in the game, second only to minstrels. They are able to heal group-mates by sacrificing some of their own morale, or by using enemy defeat skills to heal the party. The captain can also declare a member of their group a shield-mate, and utilize several attacks and abilities to heal that person while doing damage to the enemy.
The pet of a captain is the herald. This is basically an unassuming figure, dressed fairly shabbily, carrying the captain's banner. I named mine "Lucky" at first, after the guy in my D&D group who was always the cohort of our cavalier. After getting past level twenty, I renamed the herald "RedShirt" after the character in Star Trek who always went to the planet and got killed, because of what tends to happen to the herald.
The herald actually turns out to be a rather skilled tank, being able to do a fair amount of damage, and can take and avoid damage like a champ! They only have a few morale, so don't let them tank for too long, or else you will be summoning a new herald soon. The herald grants anyone in the fellowship a bonus depending on which herald has been summoned: a herald of war grants might and agility, whereas a herald of hope grants morale and in-combat morale regeneration. Different items can either upgrade a herald, or make a herald less necessary. Captains can equip a standard in lieu of using a herald. Standards are placed on the battle field and grant the group different bonuses, and for the most part are equivalent in proportion to the herald.
What the standards do not have, that heralds do have, are the special attacks. Heralds have two special attacks and one heal. The heal gives back a decent amount of the captain's morale, but also takes away some of the herald's morale. This is a very important chain, because the captain can then heal a group member, and have the herald heal the captain, thereby nullifying most of the injury sustained from the ability. The two special attacks do more damage if the herald is placed in a specific location relative to the enemy, such as behind the target. The herald's skills are set to fairly lengthy cool-down timers, so it is important to use them at strategic points.
As for other things that are important when playing a captain, there is only one race, but several traits and crafts. Race is not a concern for captains, luckily, as only the Race of Man can become captains, but this poses other possible issues. Man is a pretty standard and balanced race, but has several advancement options: more will, bonuses to using swords, a very nice heal, etc. As the captain progresses, they will have more slots for these abilities, but will still only be able to choose a small number of them until much later in the game.
The traits in the game make the characters even more unique. Is the captain renowned for being valorous, tolerant, just, or loyal? Maybe his friends know him to be a determined, yet humble man of mercy and wisdom. All of these are traits that can be acquired through the game, and make the captain class more fun to play. Are you a battle captain, hunting for anything to give you more morale and regeneration? Or are you more of a spell casting/healer style captain, looking for power and will? These things are vastly improved by getting specific traits that stack properly, allowing the captain to fit the play style of the player behind the keyboard.
The last thing, that is fairly important, is the captain's choice in crafts and profession. Aragorn was a historian by trade; he could brew athelas potions which boosted the fellowship's morale. Boromir was probably an explorer, allowing him to find what he needed along the road as he traveled from Gondor to Rivendell. Different professions will benefit the captain in different ways. Is it important for you to have the best armor at all times, or the best weapons, or to have a steady supply of potions to heal your morale?
Even though the captain apparently is the most limited class available in the game, all of the options available to them allow them to be just as diverse as any other character out there. The traits from class, race, virtue, and even the legendary traits, make them as different and varied as the grains of sand on the beaches of Evendim. Not only that, but with the abilities and skills that they have access to, they are a great addition to any group; filling pretty much any role missing beforehand. And of course, if the person is a casual player, they can solo extremely well.