E3 06: The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar Updated Impressions

We take an updated look at this massively multiplayer game based on J.R.R. Tolkien's classic fantasy novels.

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LOS ANGELES--Turbine Entertainment's upcoming massively multiplayer game The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar was on hand at E3, and we took the opportunity to take an updated look at the game. We watched a brief demonstration that ran through several of the game's early quests, which will attempt to not only expand on the sort of tasks that have traditionally been part of massively multiplayer game quests, but also attempt to heavily include story elements. Please note that this story may include minor spoilers.

We watched as a new dwarf player character began his life by grouping up with a team of human rangers looking to assure the safety around the town of Brie (the site of the Prancing Pony Inn, at which the halfling ring-bearer Frodo Baggins first met the ranger known as Strider). As part of this quest, players must join with Strider himself to defend the region from small companies of "corrupted" men. While players will encounter key characters from the novels, including the members of the fellowship of the ring, Turbine is being careful to respect Tolkien's lore and is looking for creative solutions to involve players in the world without disrupting the story.

For instance, in The Fellowship of the Ring the original party of would-be heroes visits the elf settlement of Rivendell, though once it arrives, according to the novel, the group stays for several days as its forward paths are cleared out--and several of the game's story-driven quests in Rivendell will take place during this time. However, Turbine has also added to the lore by resurrecting a new evil to terrorize the realm of Eriador. Apparently, several humans have fallen under the influence of the evil ringwraiths and their leader, the titular Witch-King Angmar, who according to the game's fiction, has been restored to the world and now presses against the flanks of the forces of good while the armies of Sauron threaten the rest of the world.

In this quest, we fought against numerous human opponents while accompanied by computer-controlled ranger characters, one of whom is wounded by the cursed sword of a ringwraith. Just like in the novels and in the motion picture, any mortals wounded by the sword of a ringwraith become partially insubstantial and may themselves transform into wraiths. As we found out later, that's more or less exactly what happens; though players will receive this at the very start of the game, some 10 character levels later, players will be tasked with assaulting a barrow to prevent the conversion of a human into a barrow-wight, only to find that the human in question is their former ranger guide. Other heavily story-related quests will involve major characters such as Goldberry, the wife of the ancient and jocular spirit known as Tom Bombadil, as well as doing battle with Middle-earth's infamous moving trees.

Turbine suggests that although the game will focus heavily on story and lore, it will, unlike its highly specialized Dungeons & Dragons Online product, be a much more traditional massively multiplayer game that includes crafting, grouping, and player guilds. In an attempt to make the play experience more streamlined and convenient, the world will feature frequent rest stops where players can unload their loot and reequip themselves (either in the form of settled towns, or even a wilderness campfire guarded by a handful of rangers), and also a form of fast-travel that will let players quickly revisit any areas they've already discovered.

The game will attempt to be accessible to new players, but scale up in depth for more-advanced players as they gain levels. For instance, in addition to gaining experience levels, players will also earn various special "accomplishments" throughout their travels, such as the title of "orc slayer" after killing a certain quantity of orcs. These accomplishments will occasionally carry special "trait" abilities, which players will collect and be able to equip on their characters in limited qualities, lending a strategic aspect to character development. With accomplishments, four different races (humans, dwarves, hobbits, and elves), seven different character classes, and nine different crafting proficiencies (with three upper-level crafting vocations), Turbine hopes to create a game where no two player characters will be alike. If Turbine can make good on its goals, Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar will seamlessly combine the classic lore of J.R.R. Tolkien with sophisticated, streamlined role-playing for players of all skill levels. The game is expected to go into beta later this summer.

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