Updated Mon, Nov 08, 2010 by gunky
With her clever songs and tales that bolster the spirit against the forces of Shadow, the Minstrel may be seen by some to show the softer side of the Lord of the Rings Online. On the other hand, a Minstrel set on the destruction of her foes, rallying her allies with ancient battle cries and demoralizing foes with discordant melodies, is nothing to be trifled with. The Minstrel is the warrior-poet, and often the heart of a fellowship.
In a group, the Minstrel is usually the designated healer, keeping a watchful eye on the green bars of her allies and keeping them in good fighting form. On her own, the Minstrel turns the beat around, using her songs and ballads to inflict damage on foes and piling numerous buffs on herself. Though restricted to light armor (or medium by traiting for it), the Minstrel can use light shields to bolster her defenses - which is important, since the Minstrel's melee skills are quite limited. Minstrel DPS is primarily Tactical.
The Minstrel class is available to every race. While no one race is more ideally suited to the class than any other, Race of Man (higher Fate and Will) and Hobbits (higher Vitality and a racial aggro-dropping skill attainable at later levels) make good choices for new players. However, at higher levels, no single race has a distinct advantage over any other, and Minstrels of any race are valuable members of any fellowship.
Minstrels often play a central role in fellowships, the primary healer that keeps all the other guys alive. The pressure to perform can be rather high, and lousy healers will adversely affect a group's chances of success more than most other classes. For example, a lousy Hunter my be playing too aggressively and draw too much aggro on himself, but this is relatively easy to handle with concentrated aggro management and good healing. A lousy Champion may rely too heavily on area-effect damage during crowd-control situations, breaking mezzes, but again this is something that can usually be fairly easily contained and overcome. If a healer is doing a lousy job healing, however, characters die and the party wipes. The heat is (boom, boom, boom, boom) on.
In general, Minstrels are quite weak when it comes to melee combat. This is not to say they can't handle themselves when the situation calls for it - they surely can - but that melee combat is not the preferred scenario. Minstrels have only one melee attack with a long cooldown, and must rely on their songs and ballads rather than their weapons. Also, unless specifically traited, Minstrels are limited to light armor and light shields. In a fellowship, this is not often a pressing issue, as the Minstrel stays in the back and lets the heavies take the bulk of the beatings, but in solo play, this can mean that the Minstrel needs to be cautious about pulling too many mobs at once.
Power consumption for Minstrels varies depending on build, gear and stance, though DPS-spec Minstrels will usually burn through power much faster than heal-spec Minstrels. In general, instruments that increase damage output (such as drums and bagpipes) also increase power cost for damage-dealing skills, and instruments that lower threat from healing (such as flutes and harps) also lower the power cost of buffing skills.
Healing skills can generate massive amounts of threat, so aggro can be an issue for heal-spec Minstrels. Usually, a good tank can handle Minstrel threat - especially when the Minstrel uses lower-threat instruments and lute strings - but occasionally some mobs will escape the tank's notice and aggro on the healer. This is especially true of ranged mobs like orc archers, who often stand out of melee range and are not affected by short-range area-effect threat skills.
Though some players will inexorably argue for the superiority of the Runekeeper as a main healer, the Minstrel remains the tried-and-true heart of the fellowship. The Minstrel excels at burst-healing - restoring big chunks of morale all at once rather than spreading it out over several seconds. The class is open to any race, and it is not restricted to Premium and VIP players, making it more accessible than the Runekeeper. And as an added bonus, playing a Minstrel well will get the player invited into groups more often than other, more popular classes like Hunter or Champion. In the war against the forces of Shadow, every group needs a shining beacon of hope, and the Minstrel provides.