Release Date: April 24, 2007
Evil looms once again in the lands of Middle-earth. Creatures and monsters of Mordor are amassing as the hunt for The One Ring rages on, and all of Middle-earth is threatened by this evil power. In order to stop this evil and bring back peace, all races — Humans, Hobbits, Dwarves, and Elves — must come together and stop this tyranny. Will that be enough? It is up to you, adventurer, to work alone or with others and stop Mordor's forces! The battle doesn't only take place in Mordor, for all the lands of Middle-earth are engulfed in evil as Sauron's forces search for the ring, including Ered Luin, Rivendell, and the Shire. Now grab your sword, bow, or even your staff, and save Middle-earth!
The hottest game genre on the market these days seems to be Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, and titles like The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar are the reason why. The amazing world of Middle-earth created by J.R.R. Tolkien, and the tales set within it, are unknown to few people. Many tales have started as books, transitioned into movies, and are then made into games, but out of those many stories, only few are successful. LotRO is one of those successes.
Upon entering LotRO, you are confronted with the basic storyline and crisis. LotRO takes place before Frodo and his joyous adventures, so the "fellowship" doesn't exist yet. Sauron has split his forces, sending Nazguls to look for the ring, and the rest of his forces have orders to attack the civilizations of the world.
After the introduction, you are prompted to create your character by selecting from four races: Humans, Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits. Each of those have the option of being male or female, except for Dwarves (but who wants to be a short, hairy female dwarf anyway?).
Along with your race, you can choose from seven different classes: Burglar, the rogue-like class that specializes in stealth; Captain, which uses its leadership abilities to command and aid their allies in battle; Champion, which is heavily focused on combat skills; Guardian, which can take massive amounts of damage; Hunter, which lays traps for enemies and uses bows to deal ranged damage; Lore Master, which uses magic and pets in battle; and Minstrel, which uses instruments and songs to heal and buff their allies, as well as deal light damage to foes. I chose the path of an Elven Minstrel and was given a few options as far as avatar customization goes, but there weren't many possibilities. With my voice attuned to several ballads, I entered my homeland of Ered Luin.
However, all was not well in Ered Luin! Sauron's forces had already begun to attack the city walls, which smoothly segues into your tutorial mission, in which you are confronted by half a dozen goblins. After you've dealt with them, you are shown a cinematic regarding the destruction of the city, and you enter the actual game world, where you can interact and converse with other LotRO players.
Much like any good MMORPG out there, there is no set path for you to follow. You can collect quests around the starting area and complete them while killing a few creatures here and there for the additional experience, or you can find other methods of having fun while completing the quests and leveling up. I personally found that the fastest way to level up was by questing, and grinding yielded very little experience. This is a lot different from most MMORPGs, where there tends to be a lack of quests but plenty of monsters for you to grind on.
This brings me to the PvE, or Player versus Environment, aspect of LotRO. Out of all the MMORPGs I've played, LotRO simply has the best PvE. Not only is it amazingly fun to explore famous sites from Tolkien's lore or doing interactive and exciting quests rather than the typical tasks of "kill X, kill Y," but the sheer number of quests is also amazing. Additionally, the fact that quests level up your character faster than typical grinding makes me feel as if I am affecting the entire game world rather than embarking on my own personal quest to hit the level cap, which is 50 at the time of this writing.
One of the most unique and exciting elements that LotRO brings to the ever-growing MMORPG community is the system of deeds. Deeds are generally split between Racial Deeds, Class Deeds, and Area Deeds. Picture a deed as a goal that is hard-coded into the game and done at your leisure. Need a little bit of experience, but do not feel like doing a quest? Head behind the local inn and slay a few wolves for that Ered Luin Wolf Slayer deed. When you kill about 30, you unlock a reward: a title to display after your name, such as "Geraldo, Guardian of Ered Luin." However, the real benefits are for completing advanced deeds, like slaying 50 or 100 of these wolves. Rewards include an increase to certain stats, a new skill or two, or maybe even a rare title to awe your friends.
From Bree to Angmar to The Shire, Middle-earth in its online game form is simply beautiful. Turbine shaped Middle-earth to look as epic as it did in the movies, and honestly, that alone makes the gameplay very exciting. Pointing out that, "Hey, Frodo lived here," or "Gandalf has been here," makes the experience that much more memorable, and each time you trek to the top of the hill or travel through a forest, you reach the other side wanting to see how gorgeous the next awaiting hill will be. From the highest to the lowest graphical setting, LotRO looks great for an MMO, and without a doubt contains some of the best graphics that I have seen.
The music in LotRO is no different from the movie soundtracks: epic. From the background harmonies to the grunts of me swinging my sword or the tunes of me singing ballads and performing music, everything sounds impressive. Ambience, immersion and combat bring a realistic feel to the gameplay experience.
We know that the graphics and audio of LotRO are out of this world, but what about the actual gameplay? Perhaps the most important feature of a fantasy MMO is its combat system. LotRO uses the well-developed system of targeting and using the number keys to use different skills and abilities. The cool thing is, if you don't have enough room from the "1" key through to the "=" key, you can establish numerous subsets of the numbers with the Ctrl, Shift, and Alt keys, for a total of 48 possible key combinations. As for the actual enemies and monsters you will be fighting, goblins, orcs, deadly spiders and even ogres have been seen in LotRO, and they are eager to beat the snot out of anyone they see who threatens the rule of Sauron.
LotRO certainly isn't the first MMO to have a crafting system, but again, LotRO's is the best by far. Basically, the game has 10 different professions: three gathering (Farming, Foresting, and Prospecting) and seven production (Cooking, Jewel-crafting, Metalsmithing, Scholaring, Tailoring, Weaponsmithing, and Woodworking). Iin essence, you can have three professions — but not any three. The game allows you to choose a single vocation, each allowing three of the possible professions. For example, the "Armsman" vocation can take up the Prospecting, Weaponsmithing, and Woodworking professions, while the "Historian" vocation can take up Farming, Scholaring, and Weaponsmithing.
Perhaps one of the most important features of MMORPGs these days is the Player versus Player, or PVP. Games like World of Warcraft brought such an advanced and enjoyable style of PvP to the genre that it is almost impossible to recreate without making it seem too forced. LotRO's form of Player versus Player is called "Monster Play." At all of the main cities around the world, you can use a Fel Scrying Pool, which enables you to choose from a handful of different monsters — spiders, goblins, and more — all starting at level 50, and enter the area called The Ettenmoors. This is a level 50 area, so your monsters will be on equalt footing with any level 50 players.
You use your monster to fight NPCs and other players' main characters, all while collecting "Destiny Points." These Destiny Points can later be applied to your actual character to create brief time-based perks and bonuses, including an increase to experience gain, speed, and other cool little features. The PvP seems fun, but unfortunately, since LotRO just came out, there weren't many (or even any) level 50 players when I played this. Because of this, I cannot truly discuss the enjoyment of PvP or any balance issues I saw. It does seem to be very fun and different, though.
Another sought-after element of MMORPGs is the end-game Player versus Environment, or end-game raiding. As of now, raiding is non-existent, like it is with most new MMORPGs, but June 13th is just around the corner and marks the first content updated for LotRO. Entitled "Book 9: Shores of Evendim," the content update will feature the entire new area of Evendim, including over 100 new quests and the first raid dungeon: Battle for Helegrod, a raid demanding 24 players in order to succeed. It sounds very entertaining, and will no doubt rank up in the enjoyment of raiding in comparison to other MMORPGs. The content update will also include new armor sets and tweaks and updates to the music system.
Speaking of the music system, that is another fun and interactive element to LotRO. The game features tons of instruments from flutes to bass, allowing you to sit around the tavern all day and amuse nearby visitors; maybe even earn some gold! In the upcoming patch, players will have the ability to compose music offline, upload it to their characters online and play the music they composed! LotRO truly is for both role-players and hardcore gamers alike, and the two balance equally, giving great quality and interaction while at the same time leaving options in the players' hands.
With a great launch and exciting features planned for the near and distant futures, Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar is certainly the MMORPG of the year so far. Turbine has come out on top once again and proved that if "Lord of the Rings" could be turned into a successful MMORPG, they would be the ones to do it. That they did. Probably the biggest question about LotRO is, "Does LotRO have the potential to surpass World of Warcraft?" The answer is yes. Not only does LotRO take place in the world that created the fantasy theme, but the title is far more polished and ahead of any MMORPG during its release. Only a short time afterwards, Turbine is already releasing a large content update to prove that they are taking things seriously. LotRO is worth a try for anyone who is fans of Lord of the Rings or MMORPGs in general, and it would be your loss to not give it a whirl. In my opinion, Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar is certainly, one of the best games to hit the shelves this year.
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