Sunday, July 15, 2007

PC: The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar Review

Oh Middle-Earth… the fatherland of many fantasy stories. It’s fraught with danger and peril, turmoil and horror but also amazing sights, mind-blowing stories and epic battles.

J.R.R Tolkien’s masterpiece of literature, the Lord of the Rings, has inspired many writers and stimulated our imaginations for years. A large franchise has been born with many film and audio adaptations, encyclopedias and fan-made stories. There have also been many computer and video games released based on the franchise, yet there no MMORPGs were made, which was odd for Middle-Earth is such great setting for an MMORPG.

Turbine, the creators of the MMORPG Dungeon & Dragons Online: Stormreach, decided to step up and develop a Lord of the Rings online game. They have been working diligently for the past few years, now let's see what they've come up with.

I was very excited for I recently grew bored of the world of Azeroth and I needed a new retreat from the real world and what a greater place than Middle-Earth to do so. After I downloaded and installed all 3.5 GBs of the game, I had to create my first character.

I had the choice between four races: the Humans, the Elves, the Dwarves and the Hobbits. But where are the Orcs, Goblins, Trolls and the rest? I was slightly unnerved, mostly because if there are no opposing races… then how is PvP possible (with the exception of friendly dueling)?

I decided to go with the humans. Now I have to choose my class. Apparently, humans have access to all classes. You can become a hunter (ranged dps class), a burglar (LOTRO equivalent of a Rogue (stealth class)), a champion (a dps class), a Lore-Master (the only magic class in the game), a guardian (tanking class), a minstrel (a healing class, similar to Everquest’s bard classes) and the captain (a buffing class). Unfortunately, the classes lacked the wide variety found in WoW and Everquest.

After that I had to choose my appearance. It wasn’t like Everquest II’s wide customization options but it was good enough to have a unique looking character. One thing that caught my attention was the list of prefixes and suffixes that you could use in your name and the different choices for your character’s place of origin.

You can choose to be from Rohan, Gondor, Bree-land and more (different for the other races). Your place of origin *should* affect your appearance and your name. When picking my name, I noticed a long list of suffixes and prefixes that are common in Middle-Earth. Some names aren’t allowed because its ‘gibberish’. Kessandra of Rohan is considered gibberish but Kessandra of Bree-land isn’t (because Bree-land uses common English names but Rohan uses “Sindarin” names). My first impressions were that LOTRO seemed to be very role-playing heavy.

After I created my human captain, I entered these fabled lands of Middle-Earth and boy was I impressed. The visuals are some of the most beautiful that I have seen from any MMORPG.

I found myself in a prison cell facing a hooded figure known as “Amdir”. We were going to save two captured hobbits from several bandits who ran the camp. The first thing I noticed was that there were no other players… which was odd for a starting zone. After rescuing the hobbits I realized I wasn’t playing online. Instead, I was in one of several single-player story-driven instances.

This is ideal for a Lord of the Rings online game and would do any fan of the franchise proud to be able to experience epic stories without that sour MMORPG grinding taste. After finishing the instance, I entered the town of Archet.

The quests are pretty similar to that of World of Warcraft, although there aren't any serious drop-rates which dictate the percentage of item drops per kill, which can take you anywhere from 30 seconds to 15 minutes in order to get what you need. This is great for the one thing I greatly disliked about WoW was the fact that I had to kill dozens of the same kind of animal in order to get a certain item (don’t ALL boars have livers?).

The interface is also pretty similar to WoW. After going through it a little, I discovered that you can “adopt” children and establish a family tree. You can also create your own sur/last-name and give yourself a title (“Kessandra the Wary” for example).

Titles are gained through accomplishments. Many of these accomplishments may be achieved by killing multitudes of a certain animal (“Spider-Foe” for killing spiders and “Wolf-Slayer” for slaying wolves) or exploring different areas. Other accomplishments may be achieved by not dying for a certain amount of levels or reaching a new level in your profession. This is all extremely awesome, especially for the type of gamer who likes to role-play.

And my fears about the lack of PvP were put to rest when I discovered something called “Monster vs. Player”. Basically you go to a “scrying pool” and you can take the body of any monster or evil race and attack other real players without any consequence to your real character.

One of my favorite features of LOTRO was the ability to play music. You can buy an instrument that your class can play and by typing /music you will be able to play that instrument. You push any number key from 1 – 7 and each key will play a different tune. Some people can play some very mesmerizing tunes or band together and make a very well coordinated orchestra performance.

This isn’t exactly a WoW “killer” but it most certainly is the perfect WoW alternative, be it if you are a fan of LotR or not.

Gameplay: 9/10 – The gameplay is similar to World of Warcraft’s but with some positive differences such as story-driven instances, well written quests and the lack of major repetitive grinding.

Music: 9/10 – I love the music. It fits just about every location and setting, every event and some songs are just downright beautiful. But like all music, it can get slightly repetitive after a while.

Sound: 7/10 – The sound is ok, nothing terribly special.

Graphics: 9/10 – Just about the sweetest looking MMORPG out so far. Great vistas, great sunsets… The way a Lord of the Rings game should be.

Replay-Value: 6/10 – There are no alternative sides or unique classes that may warrant restarting the game and continuing your subscription… that is unless Turbine alters this in the future.

Overall: 40/50 = 8/10

If you are a fan of the MMORPG genre but you are getting tired of your current game and don’t know what to get, Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar is probably the best alternative.

No comments: