Since it launched on April 24th, we've had a writer on the ground exploring Lord of the Rings Online. MMORPGs are huge things and we believe it is important to give it much more time than say a single player before we release a review. Now, after several weeks of playing, JR Sutich has given us his opinion of the game.
Developed by Turbine, Published by Midway
Launched on April 24th, 2007
Review by JR Sutich
The Lord of the Rings Online™: Shadows of Angmar™ launched on April 24th of this year with one of the smoothest transitions from Beta to Live that I have seen in 10 years of online gaming. It's refreshing to see a company learn from past difficulties and use that newly gained wisdom to avert stepping into the same pitfalls that others cannot seem to avoid. One of the things that was done that from the outset that looked like a trivial matter was to ensure that customers who had pre-ordered were given enough of a time buffer past launch to enter a retail code. This meant that players who had to wait for a retailer to ship the game would not experience any downtime. My hat is tipped to Turbine for that foresight.
I was one of those pre-order customers, although I was not in any danger of not getting the product. I started my retail journey at a local Best Buy, picking up a Special Edition box within minutes of the store opening. The SE is worth it just for the soundtrack CD that is included. Installing and patching the game client progressed without any problems at all. Soon, I was staring at the character creation screen and faithfully recreated my avatar I had used all through the Beta. Realizing that this was now a live product, I decided not to name my character Betachamp, and stuck to a more traditional moniker.
Character creation is fairly detailed with four race options, seven classes to choose from, and several appearance modifications available. Enough customization is possible so that not every Gimlee, Lagolas, Airagorn and Arrwen looks the same. After making my standard Conan look-alike, I ventured into the game world and started on my path to greatness.
The new player experience in The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar is an enjoyable one. Right off, important information is made available by way of a short tutorial which differs based upon your race selection. It's during this tutorial instance that you get your first taste of what the game has in store for you along the way as you encounter creatures that made even the bravest heroes from the books hesitant. Upon completing the tutorial, you enter another instanced new player zone, but rather than the private setting of the initial area, this new zone is where you first encounter other players. There are several quests available and after a bit you will have gained a few levels. This is also where you start to train new skills for your class and get a better idea of how your play style and class choice are going to mesh. Since this is only going to be around one or two hours into a play session, if you find that you aren't happy then re-rolling isn't as daunting as one would think. It's also very difficult to "gimp" a character, almost impossible really, so the best thing to do is just have fun.
Further character customization comes in the form of Traits. Traits are attained through completing quests, or completing Achievements. Achievements are special tasks that come in a variety of forms, some being attained through exploration or by using your class skills. Once you satisfy the conditions, you can get a new Trait that can be applied to your character with help from an NPC Bard. Traits can affect your stats, make attacks more effective, or boost Morale and Power modifiers. Again, the game is very forgiving when it comes to making poor choices concerning characters, so feel free to unlock and add those Traits that fit your style of play. I've never once heard, "Sorry, you're not specialized the way we want you to be" when trying to join a Fellowship.
One of the biggest features of The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar becomes available at Level 10. Once you hit that magic number, Monster Play is unlocked. This is the ability to create a Level 50 monster character, and engage in PvP against other players in a special zone called The Ettenmoors. Monster Players have a different skin on their User Interface, but many of the basic game mechanics are the same, including the quest system, trait system and class skill system. There are five different monster classes and each one plays similarly to a player class. Some seem to be an amalgam of two player classes. The Reaver class, for example, plays much like a combination of the Guardian and Champion classes. Monster characters start at Level 50, and use a ranking system to become more powerful. As a monster player completes quests, they gain Destiny Points. These points are used to purchase new skills and attributes. In order to gain access to better options, higher ranks must be achieved. Ranks are gained though defeating player characters.
Player characters can enter The Ettenmoors once they reach Level 40 and engage the monsters for control of several strongholds in the area. The more strongholds you control, the more quests are available, allowing you to gain even more Destiny Points. Player characters can use the Destiny Points to purchase enhancements that work like timed buffs. Gaining more armor, health, or even increased XP for periods of time can greatly improve chances of survival and rate of leveling. I plan to spend a majority of my time doing Monster Play on the side of the monsters. Evil is good.
For those that like a more peaceful time in game, there are many systems in place to accommodate that style of play as well. Crafting in The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar is well done and very easy to get involved with. Each character can select a vocation, which is a bundle of three professions. For the most part, the professions compliment each other, such as Armsman getting prospecting to gather ore needed to make weapons, and Woodworker getting forestry to gather wood. Resources are found throughout the game zones with enough frequency that gathering them shouldn't end up in frustration. Where the crafting system falters is in the fact that not that much that is player crafted is desirable when compared to loot drops and quest rewards. Cooks and Jewelcrafters can find a market for their items, but the rest of the professions are at a loss. There are certain things that just don't make sense such as the ability to craft crossbows with a Level 7 use requirement, yet no class can use a crossbow at Level 7. Once a player hits the Grand Master level of a profession though, things get better as they then can create Legendary items which are far better than a majority of other items that can be acquired. It's just getting to that point that can be difficult and seem tedious.
The other system that is worthwhile for those who may not enjoy PvP or a combat-oriented play style is the Deeds and Achievement system that can gain players new titles that can be displayed for all others to see. Many of these can be unlocked simply through exploration of different areas or finding items almost like a scavenger hunt. There are also several activities to be found such as a pie-eating contest and an area where you can play tag. More social players will be happy to know that the game has great role-playing potential and there is no one server where that cannot be found. Creative types can engage in using the games music system, which allows players to use a variety of instruments to make unique compositions. This is one part of the game that really has taken on a community of its own with songs being traded on forums and many players have become "rock stars" on their respective servers giving scheduled performances.
The graphics in the game are outstanding. With an art style between the cartoonish look of some games and the attempt at realism that ends up looking like a shiny plastic mockery in others, The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar finds a good balance. Character models are detailed quite well as are the creatures that you will encounter, animals and humanoids alike. The landscape and scenery have a great number of nuances that unless you really take a close look your eyes will register them in the almost real category. Fields of flowers and grain that blow back and forth, and reflections of the night sky in pools of water are examples of this.
Music and sound are another part of the game I enjoy. This could be the first time that I have actually left a game's music enabled. This is a big part of why I felt the SE was worth the extra ten dollars, as the soundtrack was included. The sound effects are good and seem to have enough variety to not make them repetitive in nature. A special treat is listening closely to the background murmurs while inside the auction house or an inn. I thought I could hear a discussion about someone going on a date with someone they shouldn't have.
The user interface is fairly standard as far as this latest round of MMOs is concerned. It offers limited options as to moving around the various elements, which is good, but still not up to par with the full-on customization that you can find in other games. Also, once you have a layout you are happy with, be prepared to recreate that manually for every other character you create, as UI configs are stored server side and are not able to be copied from one character to another.
I'm happy to say that the game supports a solo style of play up until around Level 35 or so. While there are certain quests, mostly in the main storyline that require grouping, you won't have to worry about needing to find others to advance the growth of your character. I can see where this could be a problem long term, as right now, there is no incentive to group at all, and in fact, for a certain quest in the Fornost instance, grouping is a horrific experience requiring far more items to be collected than can be found in a single trip through the area. I do know that there are several more solo type quests coming in the Shores of Evendim update, and that should help with the solo experience past Level 35. However, I do have concerns that in order to reach Chapter 9, it will take a group to access certain content.
Overall, The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar is a good, solid game and I am glad that I purchased it. Yes, purchased. Even though the chance to review it using a free 90-day code was afforded me, I wanted to play the game for a bit on my dime and give an honest assessment as to whether it was worth my money or not. I can say that it is something that you should definitely check into picking up for yourself. And since no review is complete without giving a score or rating, here is mine:
I give The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar a 621 out of 82.
Those of you who like math can figure that one out I hope. Here's a list of Pros and Cons:
Pros and Cons
- Game Client easy to set up and is stable
- UI not as customizable as could be
- Character creation is detailed
- UI settings not easily transferred between chars
- Graphics are outstanding
- Crafting needs help to make it profitable
- Music and Sound Effects add to the experience
- Grouping needs incentive
- Achievement system
- Monster Play is a fresh idea in MMOs
- Quest system supports both solo and group playstyles
Now let us know what you thought of the game and our review in the comment thread.