The Lord Of The Rings Online
Now That the film trilogy has resurrected interest in Middle-earth, if you're a fan of Tolkien's world, you need something to do while you're waiting for Peter Jackson to stop messing around with big apes and get on with The Hobbit.
Until then, a useful stop-gap could be The Lord of the Rings Online (formally Middle-earth Online), which has been freshly plucked from the grasp of VU Games and is currently being developed and published by Turbine, the company behind the Asheron's Call titles.
No More Mr Nasty Guy
Although the developer apparently discussed the idea of being able to play the game as good versus evil, in the end it's decided to let you choose characters from the four free races of the world: men, elves, hobbits and dwarves. Unfortunately, you won't be able to tread the Middle-earth turf as an orc or a goblin.
Nor will you actually be involved in the ring quest itself, because it's up to you to become a hero in your own right. However, as LOTRO's executive producer Jeffrey Steefel reveals: You get to meet recognisable characters from the books, such as Galadriel and Aragorn. Some you meet by accident, others you might have to do a quest for."
What's more, you also get to visit all the areas of Middle-earth as the game unfolds. When it launches, LOTRO will contain the areas in the first book such as Hobbiton, Bree and Rivendell. Rather like World of Warcraft, each race has its own starting area in the world, although at the moment, only the race of man is fully implemented.
That isn't the only way that The Lord Of The Rings Online has similarities to Blizzard's big online baby. Certainly, from first impressions the design and implementation of the newbie areas and the interface have a very WOW feel to them. Although we've been working on LOTRO for a while, Blizzard has definitely opened up the MMO market to more casual gamers and this is something we want to take advantage of," explains Steefel.
That's certainly a wise idea, because the intellectual property (IP) itself is sure to draw a very wide audience that's likely to include a strong contingent from the non-MMO playing quarter.
But as far as the IP goes, Turbine has been very jolly about the support it's been given from Tolkien estate, although it can't be easy working on a game connected to such a whopping great big franchise with a fanbase breathing down your neck. It's really an issue of trust. The more we demonstrate that we understand the world, the more trust we gain. We even have one member of our staff whose job it is to just work on Tolkien lore..."
Rest assured we'll be joining the ranks of heavy breathers as LOTRO gears up for release next year.
Download The Lord Of The Rings Online
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
State Of Play
USING SOME OF the most controversial source material possible - the much-loved and fiercely-protected Lord of the Rings -Turbine have managed to craft the most story/quest-driven MMO in existence. Lord of the Rings Online has, since its release in April 2007, been one of the few games to deliberately funnel players down particular narrative-driven quest chains (apart from Turbine's own Dungeons & Dragons: Stormreach), rather than throw them into a rather intimidating world and say "go nuts". Some may call it linear, but the story-based structure of LOTRO is what gives it its power.
While most State of Plays gloss over the fact that many MMOs fail to provide regular, free and substantial upgrades to the gameworld, LOTRO prides itself on a regular influx of new content. Since its release, there have been seven large-scale updates to the game amongst the regular balance and bug-fix updates that not only added to the game, but continued the game's "epic storyline. This is a long-term quest that spreads over the course of LOTRO's (first) 50 levels, leading up to the conclusion of the game's first Volume, The Shadows of Angmar, finished in Book 15: The Daughter of Strife. These updates were (and will continue to be) sizeable, adding more quests, areas and content to the already rather intimidating LOTRO world.
The updates (books) are sent out once every two months, and history has proven that Turbine are reasonably loyal to these timeframes. Tine first, The Shores of Evendim, added over 100 quests, new raid areas and items to raid for, and set the scene for most of the rest of the content. While the original game encouraged grouping and really experiencing the story-driven content, Turbine have released more hardcore/raid content, including the battle with a balrog. Please note - this is a balrog, rather than the Balrog, that you can fight in The Mines of Moria's historic raid. The important (and slightly different) thing about the aforementioned subterranean expansion is that the best of it is found from being the highest level in Anginal's content. This isn't just because you'll have more content to grind through, a la Wrath ofthe Lich King, but because the storyline relies on the fact that you'll have a group of buddies to thrash through the higher level content with. Much of the latter parts of LOTRO relies on the player having a few good men to bother the various monsters on the way to level 60. While this is where the multiplayer part of MMO comes in, it can be frustrating having to rely on having made reliable friends to advance through the content.
All the same, LOTRO currently has some of the finest dedicated storytelling in MMOs, and continues the rich tradition of whisking the player off on a wild adventure. Where Northrend fails to engage, the new content in Moria will win over anybody who left LOTRO at a reasonably high level. Failing that, those willing to rush to level 10 will find a slew of PvP content in Monster Play and The Ettenmoors. If you want to, you can battle against level 40 and higher players as a monster, leveling and gaining deeds as you go - it's a great distraction from the main game when it becomes a tad stale.
The only problem with LOTRO is that, in this industry, it's not stunningly different from WOW or Warhammer Online, other than its environments are made with bit more care. The source material is lovingly developed, but the I game itself can tend to be repetitive and just not as tight as its competitors. Nevertheless, it also tends to be more satisfying, especially considering how much story-based content there is for both new players and those returning from hiatus.
The Mines of Moria is a worthy expansion, and the LOTRO world is worth a bash even for newbies, and definitely deep enough to spend more time with if you were initially impressed. The Rune Keeper and Warden classes add a bit more soloability to the game, and the storyline is one of the better ones in PC gaming, even if it does err on the cheesy. Tie new raid encounters will sate the wannabe hardcore generation, and even the more casual player will enjoy a jaunt into the earlier content.
Whether or not you return is mostly up to how well you ingest the Lord of the Rings content. The high fantasy nature of Turbine's work hasn't changed, and it's not set to. But on the upside, it will grow and evolve over the next few years.