The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar Hands-On Impressions - Early Levels, High-Level Content, Story Elements

We get our hands on this massively multiplayer game based on the classic novels of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Author John Ronald Reuel Tolkien probably never realized just how far-reaching and long-lived his Lord of the Rings novels would become when he penned them more than 60 years ago. To date, the author's chronicles of the fantasy world of Middle-earth have captured the imaginations of thousands of readers, young and old; have given rise to smash-hit, award-winning motion pictures; and, most importantly, have led to video games that let guys pretend that they're elves. The next electronic game to carry Tolkien's standard will be The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar--a massively multiplayer game from publisher Midway and Asheron's Call developer Turbine Entertainment. We got our hands on the early game experience and also had an opportunity to see some high-level content in action. Note: This preview may contain minor spoilers.

According to Turbine president Jeff Anderson, the studio's "number one goal is to deliver on Tolkien" by focusing in great detail on a portion of the fantasy world--specifically the realm of Eriador (where all the events of The Fellowship of the Ring take place)--rather than attempting to re-create the massive sprawl of all Middle-earth. The developer is hard at work creating a densely packed world full of quests (more than 1,300), characters to meet, and interesting, authentic locations to explore. The game will take place during the "Third Age," the same time frame in which the events of the Lord of the Rings novels unfold, so you can expect to meet with key characters like Gandalf and Aragorn and fight alongside them in the War of the Ring.

Bless my soul! 'Tis the noble Strider, come to aid an aspiring hero in this upcoming online game.

Anderson explained that the game is intended to appeal both to casual players who might be more familiar with Tolkien's novels than with online games and to veterans of massively multiplayer games. Casual players will hopefully be drawn into the game by its faithful interpretations of Tolkien lore, since the game will include major locations and characters from the novels, as well as in-game cinematic sequences called "dramatic moments," which often precede or follow quests.

Hardcore online-game fans will hopefully be drawn in by the game's depth--though you'll be able to choose from only four playable races (humans, elves, dwarves, and hobbits) and seven different character classes, all characters will be able to earn hundreds of different usable skills, along with hundreds of additional usable "traits" that either come naturally with your characters' race or profession, or can be earned from various quests. As your characters become more powerful and experienced, you may join "fellowships" (temporary adventuring parties) and even "kinships" (the game's version of guilds--persistent player groups) and find quests suited specifically for larger groups that carry unique trait rewards at the end of them. However, in many cases, you'll be able to equip only a limited number of specific skills to carry into battle by consulting the local bard--this setup adds an extra layer of pre-battle strategy.

In the meantime, you'll also be able to earn new traits and vanity titles for your characters (such as "the Explorer of Bree" or "the Warg-Slayer") by discovering new areas, defeating massive numbers of monsters, and completing the higher-level "passive quests" that will start appearing in your character's adventure journal once you hit level 20 or so. These quests might include reducing the local monster population or simply discovering a series of ancient ruins. Completing these quests will always yield some kind of reward, so it seems that you will have plenty to do.

Yes, there's a tutorial mission, but this one has the evil black riders of Sauron.

We ourselves had a chance to create a new character and to give the low-level areas in the human settlement a try (each of the four races will have a different starting area, though all characters will eventually filter into the central region of Bree to begin their real adventures). As a human character, you'll apparently start your game as a prisoner of evil humans who are led by of one of the dark lord Sauron's fearsome "black riders," though you're aided by a human ranger who helps free you from your cell. Your initial quest to get out of jail will act as a tutorial, and our stout dwarf champion--a character class devoted to wielding a weapon in each hand and dealing as much damage as possible--was up to the challenge.

Mazes and Monsters

The game uses the same kind of keyboard-and-mouse control scheme you'd expect from a massively multiplayer game, and although the game interface we played with wasn't final, it seems that Turbine may very well err on the side of giving you as much control as possible, like with its last game, Dungeons & Dragons Online. The temporary beta interface (which Anderson suggested will be streamlined for easier use before launch) offers a long row of "hotkey" shortcuts, chat windows, and a marked minimap that indicates quest-givers and vendors (along with a larger "region map" to which you can manually add points of interest, and an even larger world map). Anderson suggests that experienced players should feel right at home with the game's interface and basic gameplay. The interface offers a "paper doll" character screen with various slots to equip weapons and armor, multiple bags to carry inventory items, and even enhanced options for buying and selling items at merchants, including not only instantly repairing all your damaged items at once and buying back items you've sold, but also comparison-shopping between new items and your current ones and locking items in your inventory window to make sure you don't accidentally sell them.

Doing battle with evil orcs will be just one part of the gameplay.

New human characters must hack their way through a handful of evil prison guards and rescue two friendly hobbits, one of which sets a nearby building alight to create a diversion. It's a good thing, too, since the fire is the only thing that drives off the black rider himself. Just after you rescue your wards, you're treated to one of the game's "dramatic moments," a cinematic sequence that shows the black rider struggling to control his horse before fleeing, leaving the wounded ranger who helped you originally. Those familiar with either Tolkien's novels or the recent motion pictures know what happens to anyone who is wounded by a black rider, and it seems your ranger friend's fate is sealed (and your friend's doom may come back to haunt you--literally!--when your characters advance themselves further and uncover more of the game's story-driven quests).

Once you escape from the prison, you start off at your first town, a bustling hub of activity where merchants, minstrels, and trainers wait to give you quests, buy and sell items, and train your dwarf, elf, human, or hobbit to earn your next level's skills. From there, the world is mostly seamless and can be traveled from end to end on foot. Anderson suggests that the only times you'll see noticeable loading times will be when your characters visit an important "instanced" area closed off from the rest of the world, such as part of a story-related quest or a high-level dungeon.

In addition to trying out the early part of the game, we had a chance to see and hear about some of the other unique features that Turbine recently unveiled, such as the "dread"/"hope" system. Certain powerful relics (and powerful characters) in the game will actually affect your characters' morale. Though you won't encounter this system frequently, every so often your characters will run across an exceptionally powerful site or character of evil, and this will begin to inspire dread in your character as long as you're in the area. At first, the edges of your screen will begin to blur, and your characters will glow red. Eventually, you'll start to take penalties to your abilities and even begin to feel your characters' life force drain away if you stay too long. Conversely, if you happen to encounter a powerful force of good, such as the wizard Gandalf, your characters might become infused with hope and receive powerful temporary bonuses.

Your one ray of hope is...Tom Bombadil?

In addition, Turbine dropped a few hints about the game's competitive player-versus-player mode, which is currently being called "monster play." Anderson referred to this mode as "casual PVP"--a way to bring in new players who don't want to put their characters--or their pride--on the line. The game's monster play system will let those players who don't wish to put their own characters in harm's way take control of one of Middle-earth's monsters instead and do battle against other player characters. The executive even suggested that, as a monster, you will be able to go off and perform quests in the arena area and gain exclusive, monster-specific traits while in that form.

From what we've seen so far, The Lord of the Rings Online is clearly trying to deliver an authentic Tolkien experience wrapped around a highly evolved, deep online game that should be easy to pick up but hard to put down. The game is scheduled for release early next year.

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67 comments
wiidominance
wiidominance

YESSSS !! .. Finally , some decent competition for WoW, and they gave it a decent abbreviation as well .. LOTRO .. lol .. Why do I have a feeling that this game should've come before WoW ? I just feel the LOTR universe is more suitable than WoW. Things will make much more sense here, I am getting slightly hyped here, even though I have been against MMOs for a while now. It will be really interesting to see how WoW fanboys will react if this game turned out to be a success, will we see a mass abandonment of WoW, just like what happened to good ol' FF11 ??

beckoflight
beckoflight

What is it with you ppl WoW is not the best ...if your a fan of WoW keep it to yourself ... i like blizzard's work but i hate the cartoony style of WoW & the gameplay you say its great but you haven';t tried other MMO's !!!

Gorillaunit485
Gorillaunit485

I don't understand why anyone would buy this game when WoW is as good as MMORPG's are going to get. Aside from the novelty of being a hobbit, there's really no reason to choose it over Warcraft.

shenron43
shenron43

ah, we'll see how it is when it comes out

SCORPIONIGHT
SCORPIONIGHT

bonik All I had to see was the gameplay. It took that guy ages to give off damage, I hate those MMO's where you have to slash way too much for way too little. Why would I want to battle with 1 big guy for 5minutes, then do it again 20 times before I clear the area. Total nonsense like WoW. In WoW you dont kill mobs 5 min it tooks seconds to kill a mob (unless you dont know how to play OR you atacking mob that is hihger lvl then you are (realy higher)

TheWinds
TheWinds

I'm curious what the hobbits do. Most weren't adventurous.

bonik
bonik

All I had to see was the gameplay. It took that guy ages to give off damage, I hate those MMO's where you have to slash way too much for way too little. Why would I want to battle with 1 big guy for 5minutes, then do it again 20 times before I clear the area. Total nonsense like WoW.

matte989
matte989

From what I understand, the media only got the see the first 10 levels. In all honesty I hope Turbine nails it HARD but for now I will be a skeptic. Most developers can make 1-10 awesome. I hope the rest of LOTR Online is as good as the first 10. Good luck Turbine

chunkylover90
chunkylover90

I think this game looks ace so far, finally a game that might just do Tolkien justice. I personally cant wait for it to come out.

mydasx
mydasx

yuck yuck yuck, turbine is terrible and so are all their games. Ive just looked a little deeper here. nothing new to see here people move along...

vudde
vudde

This will be great. Just wish I could play the beta RIGHT NOW. But you have to be picked to get to do that... : ( Well, this will be awesome anyhoooo.

666net
666net

people......stop comparing this with WoW......yes I know WoW is awesome and I'm also addicted to it, but forget WoW and love this game! at this point it is only graphic....but as you see, it's just like Prince of Persia online! can't wait for beta

DStew34
DStew34

so is it like world of warcraft a little where u can talk 2 ppl and stuff or what?

xatman911
xatman911

Awesome, I might play it. Currently addicted to runescape.

Mastergamist
Mastergamist

The character creation seems to be that of WoW. How to get titles seem to be that of SWG. Is there one part in here that's actually original ideas? Almost all of this is pieces ripped off of other MMO games. However as long as the gameplay is good, I'll buy it.

Jason1414
Jason1414

Actually, it very specifically said in the books that elves differed little from men, in appearence, other than "leaf shaped ears". And if you've even read the Lord of the Rings it is in your face implied that only people with special blood in them(Numenoreans, some Noldorin elves) are capable of using magic in a way that is more than trivial. Other races, like normal men, and dwarves, and lesser elves, sure they can use magic, not a lot though. They can learn, through LORE, to do simple spells, HENCE THE LOREMASTER. They cannot be a Wizard. A Wizard was a special kind of maiar(demi-god) called an Istari. There were only 5, ever. There will never be more than 5. You CAN'T BE A WIZARD and still call the game Lord of the Rings. And for all the people suggested making them unlockable characters, all I have to say is, don't you people learn from Star Wars Galaxies and Jedi?? From what I have played of this game it is alright so far. Definetly best graphics on the market, and great world placement. Content is all over the map, densly packed and very well thought out, its very nice. To all those people saying this game will fail, I ask, why? What do you know about this that I don't that makes you think that way? Why should it fail? It has a massive fan base, some great new concepts, awesome graphics, and fun group play. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan boy because of LotR. On the conrary, I scrutinze every aspect of this game, and while some places leave something to be desired (Rivendel) the game overrall exceeded my high expectations. The Shire will blow you away.

Chernnunos
Chernnunos

FatherTimex: They are not an entirely different race of beings. They are "angelic" entities who have taken on human form. Gandalf has said that magic is hard to use and offers little reward, but there is not one single place in ANY of JRR Tolkien's books that says "nobody can use magic but these wizards and nobody can be taught magic but these wizards." Elves can use magic. Otherwise they could not craft Magical weapons. Dwarves can use magic. Otherwise they could not craft magical weapons. Since the Elves are being given pointed ears in this game (there is never, ever any reference to elves having pointed ears or sharply upturned eyebrows in any of the Tolkien books), then the lore can ALSO be stretched to let Wizard be a character class. Your argument is not good enough.

runstalker
runstalker

Any $14.99/month game post-WoW is obliged to provide as much low, mid and high-end content as WoW, or it's pointless to try to compete. Meanwhile, I'm sure the LotR Online forums are bursting with Tolkien geeks unintentionally ruining the game by being over-vocal about adhering to elements of the fiction that do not gel with MMO designs, causing Turbine to tip-toe along a line they should not even be treading. A tragedy waiting to happen.

overcode
overcode

Ouch! The interface/UI on the left and right side of the screen is absolutely unacceptable. What were they thinking? *scratches game off of list*

Slacker43
Slacker43

I just hope they dont ruin this game, Ive been waiting to play this for awhile. plllllllllllllllllllllllllz dont ruin it

FatherTimex
FatherTimex

"There are wizards in the Tolkien world but you can't be one. Their reasoning behind it is because there are only what, 4-5 of them? And who's to say those 4-5 can't take on Apprentices?" Because in Tolkien's world, the Wizards are not simply magic users.. They are an entirely different race of beings, which are essentially demi-gods. Mortals and Elves cannot simply become wizards. That's not how it works.

nephthyswandere
nephthyswandere

I'm enjoying it immensly. The biggest problem that some of you have is that you have some sort of wacked out vision of you riding next to Gandolf into Mordor. That's not what this is. If you want that, play the dozen other games that allow you to play as Legolas. It's a beta. Alot more polished of one than WoW was at this time. I'm not even sure that Chernnunnos is even talking about the right game.

janlopes
janlopes

I belive more in LOTR white counsil, from EA, but probably, both will be crap =)

Carnage143
Carnage143

Eh, I don't get a great feeling about this game.

Exlord
Exlord

Well, i am very dissapointed. And contrary to the preview i _do_not_ feel any Lord of the Rings inside the game, just online fantasy and pretty boring one and to much like the other big MMORPG.

eddy_of_york
eddy_of_york

Looks like WOW, except with nicer lighting and it looks like a longer draw distance. I'm not an mmorpg player though, so I guess it doesn't matter too much what impression they make on me...Aren't you glad I shared it?

Locke11
Locke11

from the looks of it it looks great ,but don't be fooled

Chernnunos
Chernnunos

I Alpha tested this game. My opinion: They can't improve upon this current build enough from Alpha to make it worth my time. It was ugly. It was boring. It was slow paced. Combat was clunky and jagged. The models lacked detail and a sense of "Wow i'm really interested in leveling this guy up" because..well..see above...combat was so lackluster. There are wizards in the Tolkien world but you can't be one. Their reasoning behind it is because there are only what, 4-5 of them? And who's to say those 4-5 can't take on Apprentices? Instead you get the lackluster loremaster. The classes aren't different enough (other than the burglar and loremaster) to really distinguish them apart from one another. EVERYTHING in the world seems to have really washed out, drab, brown and tan colors. I agree with 90% of these posts, that this game is going to fail. I'd rather be evil and able to use magic than be good and fight the entire experience of mine using just a sword and bow/arrows. Bottom line: Mind-numbingly boring.

nick1500
nick1500

Man this is really an amazing concept at display here. The game seriously has lots of potential if allowed to be launched with proper care. I like the dramatic sequence thing. But it could be even better if one part of the game they let you play as one of "The Fellowship". It would certainly be an interesting game to play. But still i am kinda getting bored of everything recently great title being released as an RTS or some role playing game. Seriously it would be nice to have a game in Lords Of The Rings from a third person prespective would be better.

stanislavski86
stanislavski86

I agree with you anacardo whole heartedly. Particularly visually it is off putting besides anything else really. I would have hoped they stuck to the movies' concept, that would even do a better job. It is me I know but, I guess this is another ruining of a potentially great title. Only feature I liked so far is the 'monster play' pvp (though I would like that as being an option rather than the only way to go). Pretty sad to see the title we love to be abused this way!

anacardo
anacardo

This game is not huge but definitely large, still it simply cannot compare with the sense of scale conveied trhough the books by tolkien. This mmorpg seems a watered and scaled down version of the same world. The visual style looks a bit teen-childish compared to the overall tokien art we've seen in the last 25 years and therefore, at least for me, the game lacks atmosphere.

Jsnuk
Jsnuk

Has anybody apart from smallpower realized that this game was meant to be released last year? then early 2006 then mid 2006 then winter 2006 now 2007 ?

SmallPower
SmallPower

I'll bet you have to beat the 'Asheron's Call 2' players away with a stick, they've got to be chomping at the bit to play another Turbine MMORPG - before it's cancelled. This game was originally announced as a 2005 (or was it 2004?) release. Have the developers finally decided whether or not to give the hobbits hair on their feet? It took Tolkien less time to write The Lord of the Rings than it will take for this mystically ethereal, wraithlike vaporware to see the light of day. The halfling towns in "Vanguard" are an absolute rip-off of the Peter Jackson LOTR movies - if you're dying to play a LOTR MMORPG, try that one (even though it sucks). And there are always the elves, orcs, etc. of World of Warcraft, with its ever-popular "night elves" and their treehouse home base - another blatant rip-off of Peter Jackson's movies. If this game ever goes live, how likely is it that it will remain live for as long a period as it took to develop it? Not very.

oldowl2
oldowl2

Well, I do like the beta, it is fun and gorgous, BUT... I do not understand why Turbine has never made another game like Asheron's Call ONE. The fighting/skills/armor/weapons/xp/PvM/PvP are absolutely amazing and intricate. There is no other game out there that is on the level of Asherons Call PvP, its purely based on skill NOT stats. The community runs on a player based economy and makes the game incredibly social and fun. After 7 years in the mill there is still a big player community that plays, and still i see noobs running around having fun. Turbine has just hired a senior engineer solely for AC1 so it is on there top priority that people in the game have fun and stay happy. I think within the next month or 2 there is going to be an ad for it in one of the gaming magazines as well as a month trial offer, so look into it guys! It doesent have the graphics as WoW or LotR (even though the textures are pretty damn good), but it makes up for it in gameplay and sheer fun!

MMORPG_GAMER
MMORPG_GAMER

I think LOTR Online is going to be a big surprise to the MMORPG community. After D&DO, which by most accounts failed and gave Turbine a black eye, the consensus was that LOTR was going to be a stinker. I can tell you, LOTR is NOT a stinker. I saw the opening chapter played, the scene from which the Ringwraith picture came, and let me tell you, it is intense. The game is stunningly beautiful at times. While LOTR will not offer anything entirely original or ground breaking, it is clear the game has been a labor of love. I can see many WoW fans (not into PvP) who want a change running in masse to LOTR. Turbine has a sleeper hit on its hands...

uberjannie
uberjannie

Aah, finally a game where soloing will be possible (i hope). After what ive read in this preview it all seems good. Cant wait until i try the new strange monster pvp thingie..

King_Luke
King_Luke

Sounds awesome, too bad I can never afford MMORPGs. The "Casual PVP" sounds pretty crap, though. I wonder if eventually you'll be able to play as a bad guy... like an Orc or an Uruk or something...

danyjr
danyjr

So turbine has made another MMO with crappy PvP...no thanks...I'm out!

-Twilight-
-Twilight-

The game play videos look so promising, but when it comes to MMO games I really have to play them myself before drawing any conclusions or passing the slightest of judgement as there are many good-looking MMOs out there that in fact play terribly.

Gamepro2421
Gamepro2421

hmmm, this could go either way, what will make my mind up is A. whether or not i'm still playing a ton of games on the Wii and B. i'll have to look at how Warhammer Online is looking...because as of right now i think that game is the closest thing to a WoW killer we are going to see for a while...but then again SOA has the potential...lets see if Turbine can exicute And if you had read the first book you'd recall Strider telling his compainions that the trip from the Inn to Rivendell is a two week journy by foot and if you use the map in the front of The Fellowship Of The Ring you would see that Rivendell is 275 miles away from Bree...i'm thinkin a two week, 275 mile journy by foot is a pretty massive world...they rn't being lazy by any means

TacNuke_Tyger
TacNuke_Tyger

First of all WOW: BC is due in January 2007 not november. I haven't seen enough of this game to form an opinion yet. I am hopeful, but like so many others have already said, if its a DDO clone then it will suck and we will never have a proper LotR MMO for many many many years to come......sigh

EdwardX2
EdwardX2

This is going to be a huge failure..surely with Blizzard's Burning Crusade is expected to arrive this november.

LoqGor
LoqGor

Eriador is a large region of MiddleEarth. It is a two week journey from Breeland to Rivendell by foot, so hopefully this will give a large area to explore. Expecially considering Eriador encompasses most of the land West of the Misty Mountains...

Ashkanhoss29
Ashkanhoss29

they should charge only about 5 or 10 bucks a month, if they cant make it free. If they do that, then they have a chance