The Lord Of The Rings Online

Have you heard of The Lord of the Rings? It’s a mildly successful novel with a small but loyal following. It was also recently turned into a trilogy of movies that slipped under most people’s radars, but is worth a look if you can find it. And now, gamers will be treated to a massively multiplayer online role playing game based on the books. Being such a niche product, I can’t imagine anyone purchasing this game simply to inhabit Tolkien’s world, so it’s lucky that the gameplay itself is lots of fun.

Highly developed sarcasm aside, a title of this caliber is going to attract a lot of attention no matter what it does. Lord of the Rings Online has had a troubled, drawn out development – it has changed hands, publishers, and names in its quest to get to retail. Generally speaking, games like this don’t turn out so well. There’s also the fact that other MMORPG’s based on popular licenses have crashed and burned in the past – just look at The Matrix Online or Star Wars Galaxies, two games that tried to use their popular settings to cover up derivative, frustrating, and sometimes broken gameplay. So with all this in mind, it’s all the more surprising to find that The Lord of the Rings Online is not only immensely playable, but is also one of the most fun, polished, and immersive of the current crop of online games.

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If you call yourself a gamer, and are even vaguely interested in this game, you’ve no doubt seen that all the other reviews floating around the net rate LOTRO quite highly. You would also have seen a few common points of interest, the main one being that this game is very similar to World of Warcraft. This is certainly true – one friend of mine saw me playing LOTRO and thought it was WoW, while another (WoW-addicted) friend started playing and was immediately more familiar with the interface than I was. Many people have cried out that this makes LOTRO a terrible game – but it really doesn’t. Instead, the game manages to take a familiar system, improve on it in many small ways, and present an experience that is remarkably polished and consistent.

There are many, many areas of the game that I could go into, but they have already been covered so many times in other places. So all I’m going to do is tell you a story of my character, and what happened on his adventures. I decided to make a hobbit hunter (basically a ranged fighter who can lay traps) called Mustard. The game opened in the Shire, and before very long I had had my first encounter with a Black Rider looking for – of course – a certain Baggins. Your first couple of hours is taken up with a series of intro quests that serve to introduce you to the game’s mechanics, and effectively demonstrate LOTRO’s ability to tell a decent story – something that is missing from many MMOGs.

Once you get past this sequence, the whole world opens up for you. Or at least part of it – currently you can only play in the north-western part of Middle-Earth, which still gives you a huge amount of land to mess around in. As a Tolkien fan, I couldn’t wait to start exploring all the locations I knew about from the novels – and luckily, I wasn’t disappointed, as the game’s artists have done an amazing job when it comes to realizing Tolkien’s world. Whether you’re traversing the sunny fields and hills of the Shire, climbing the snowy peaks of the Misty Mountains, or wandering beneath the twisted branches of the Old Forest, you really do feel like you’re in the world laid out in The Lord of the Rings.

There are hundreds of quests available to you, whether you progress with the main storyline or undertake an optional adventure on the side. Most of them are pretty standard – you’ll be doing a lot of ‘take this item to X’ missions, for example – but they’re quite bearable when wrapped up in the story. But what really makes the grinding in this game fun are the countless titles and traits you uncover while you play. Titles are bestowed on you for a lot of different things. My hobbit, for example, became ‘Mustard, Slug Squasher’ after killing a large amount of slugs in a marshy part of the Shire. Luckily, most of the titles are a bit more noble than that one, but the point is that I didn’t mind killing all those slugs, because the reward was well worth it. It’s an extremely simple and elegant system that lets you do what players always want to do – namely, show off in front of everyone else.

Other areas of the game are nearly as good. The graphics are great, the sound and music is of quite a high quality, and the presentation of the game as a whole is remarkably well done for a new MMORPG. Also, the music system rocks – if you save up enough silver, you can purchase an instrument and play a wide range of notes on it. I bought a lute, and am now adept at playing Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ and Star Wars’ ‘Imperial March’. My playing attracted small crowds, but they tended to drift away after I started repeating those two songs over and over again. There are actually entire guilds devoted to the music system, and apparently whole bands get together and perform world tours, stopping by all the major towns and blasting out songs together. This system might sound like a small thing, but it really illustrates the fun that can be had with LOTRO.

In all, my play time with the game was a positive one. While it might not be a definitive ‘WoW-killer’, it’s certainly the first real title to come along that has a chance at standing up to the juggernaut. If you’re a fan of Tolkien’s work, a fan of good MMO’s, or just want a break from World of Warcraft, you can’t get much better than Lord of the Rings Online.

"A great license tied to some great gameplay."
- The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar
Follow Own it? Rating: M   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 30 Min


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