Turbine is well-known in the MMO circles for Asheron's Call (and its horrendously bad sequel, Asheron's Call 2), and more recently of Dungeons and Dragons Online. Now they have set their sights on the holy grail of all licenced MMOs. According to Turbine, it's time to move to Middle-Earth with The Lord of the Rings Online - Shadows of Angmar. So, should you pack your bags or stick to the life in Azeroth?
The Lord of the Rings Online - LOTRO for short - is a fairly conventional stab at making a massively multiplayer online game set in Middle-earth. Anyone familiar with World of Warcraft will feel right at home - you do quests, bash some monsters, collect loot and gain levels just like in almost every other game of the genre. Gameplay, user interface, quest mechanics and many other things feel instantly familiar.
But it's not all just WoW-copying. While the basic framework and many of the proven concepts are the same, there are a fair number of original ideas and twists of familiar features. Some of it is due to the Lord of the Rings lore, as you can't do a generic sword & sorcery MMO with a LOTR sticker on it, and expect it to survive the contact with the most dedicated Lord of the Rings fans.
To avoid being burned at the stake for heresy by the true fans, Turbine had to do some careful tweaking and re-branding of the normal fantasy MMO formula due to the established canon - magic is rare in Middle-Earth, so there are no mages tossing fireballs or priests healing wounds. In fact, LOTRO ditches the whole cycle of dying and resurrecting over and over again. Instead of hit points characters have morale - run out of morale, and you are "defeated" and flee from the fight. And to counteract loss of morale when monsters are chewing on you, Minstrels are the experts in playing songs to raise it. Along with Captains, they can also "revive" a character with zero morale to get him back to the fight without the need to "flee" to a respawn point.
So, while the LOTR lore has not been ignored, in practice the gameplay is very similar to many other MMOs and plenty of the common elements are present - they are just implemented in a LOTR-compatible way. Some have complained that this is a cop-out, but in my opinion when tradition and gameplay collide, sacrifices must be made in order to have something fun to play, and Turbine has managed to work around the problem pretty well - the fun has definitely survived the encounter with the licenced source material.
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News: LOTRO wins best PC title at Golden Joystick Awards. Oct 26, 2007
News: Getting ready for Gollum - Book 11 in LOTRO 2110 Oct 15, 2007
News: TGS 2007: LOTRO Ring Girls and Book 11 update Sep 21, 2007
News: Lord of the Rings Online Free Trial Launched Aug 30, 2007
Previews: Lord of the Rings Online - Shadows of Angmar Pre-launch look Mar 24, 2007
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