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November 26, 2007
Trial or Error?: A Seven Day Look at Lord of the Rings Online

By: -Avalon-

I played "Lord of the Rings Online" in the early phases of beta all the way through to the end of beta, and was definitely not excited over it. I have read the books several times, and seen the movies more times than I can imagine. I was awaiting this game on the edge of my seat - I wanted a great game that brought the world alive! What I received in the game was nothing short of utter disappointment. Yet, I did see some hint of promise, so I did what so many players today do - I promised I would look at it again when a free trial came open.

To begin with, the free trial is very easy to install. It is easier than most games today, so that is a big bonus from my outlook. It took me about an hour to fully install on a fairly old computer. Following that, the requirements for the game were pretty ridiculous during beta. They claimed one thing, and then the realities were very different. I could not stop from lagging out! Now, the game is much smoother, has some pretty nice graphics, and does not lag out at all just about. This is partly due to some of the settings that have been added (like the ability to turn down the quality of character rendering if in an overly crowded area), and also having two separate clients: a high res and a low res.

Character creation is not very different. The only choices on classes are guardian, captain, champion, burglar, hunter, lore-master, and minstrel. The race choices are man, elf, dwarf, and hobbit. With the exception of the dwarf, all races can be female or male. With dwarf it does not matter if you are male or female, you still look like a dwarf! As Aragorn said in "Two Towers", "It's the beards!" Although there are only a few choices to make in character creation, the classes are well designed and crafted, fairly well balanced, and the graphics look nice even on the lowest settings of the low res client, which is a major thing for me.

The first part of the game is a tutorial that starts in a bad situation and is meant to teach the most basic parts of any online game. Combat is fluid for the most part with very few stutters or breaks in the movements. The controls are placed in decent locations on the keyboard and the quest lines seem to be well thought out.

After the tutorial the player is taken to their primary starting location. At least it looks like the tutorial is over. But it is not. In actuality, the tutorial is just beginning. The player will now learn more about questing, fellowships, training, traits, and more. Traits were not of much use in beta - they were a great idea with very bad design. Now, the traits are an extension of the storyline, and have nice effects when obtained. Also, it is a requirement to visit a bard to announce that you have gained that trait. One could imagine that a bard is actually writing a song about "Zeraas the Valiant" or "Berr-Foot the Honest and Virtuous"!

As for the actual game play mechanics, the classes are well-balanced. The captain has a host of leadership abilities that can be used at various times, and affect any number of different things in the game, from morale regeneration to healing comrades, or buffs on party members when they kill an enemy. The champion is just full of a variety of ways to beat down the opponent and let them know that the champion was there! They use attack forms like "Wall of Blades" that attacks any opponents in their frontal arc. They have several direct attacks also, but what sets them apart is their use of a berserking form called "Fervour". Those skills allow the champion to build up a berserk status and steam ahead with more power and more devastating attacks.

As magic goes, there really is not a true form of magic. There is music for the minstrels, and limited magic in the form of summons and a bit of healing out there also. But unlike most games, there are no time stops, no massive fireballs, and no massive blasts of energy from stars called to fall down from the heavens to smite your foes. Magic is much underplayed in this game, as it should be. I applaud Turbine for their efforts in sticking with the true genre of "Lord of the Rings" on this.

The one part that I didn't have a chance to play before that looks pretty interesting is the "Monster Play". Monster Play allows the player to create and play a level fifty monster. The monsters playable are a goblin warrior, an orcish archer, an Uruk-Hai leader, a worg, or a spider. Apparently there are several quests that can be accomplished without Player versus Player interaction, but the majority seems to be PvP battles. As the player accomplishes more and more in Monster Play, they gain destiny points which allow the player to enhance either their actual character, or buy special adjustments in Monster Play. Some of these adjustments include buying a new race to play (IE Cave Troll), new abilities to train your monster with, or a new look for your monster.

"Lord of the Rings Online" appears to have made giant strides in coming along from what I saw in beta, to what I see now. I am glad I gave it seven days to prove itself. I see that Turbine has stayed true to the Tolkien Vision of Middle-Earth. The graphics are set so that a wide audience is targeted, and the immersion feels like I am in the middle of the world I grew up reading about. Way to go, Turbine, congratulations on making a good game!

Graphics: 8
Sound: 8
Storyline: 9
Community: 8
Mechanics: 8
Tilt: 9
Overall: 8.3


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