The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar Review

It really is about time that Tolkien's seminal classic work The Lord of the Rings got the MMORPG treatment. After all, it was The Lord of the Rings that served as inspiration for Dungeons & Dragons, the paper RPG that influences the design of PC RPGs to this day. So in a way we've finally come full circle. Closing that circle is by no means an easy job, as undoubtedly expectations are high whenever Tolkien's works are involved. Let's see how Turbine fared in bringing Middle Earth to life.

Before I get into any of the game's particulars, I should point out that The Lord of the Rings Online does not set out to revolutionize the genre. The game's basic quest, class, and combat structure is from the same mold as that used for EverQuest or World of Warcraft. Many of the strengths and weaknesses of these games are present in The Lord of the Rings Online and if you tried another one of these MMORPGs and did not find it at all to your liking then the game's original features and Tolkien license won't be enough to change your mind. Everyone else may just find something here to their liking.

Your game begins with the creation of a character. You'll have four races to choose from, human, hobbit, elf, or dwarf, all of which are drawn from the alliance of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth. You won't have the option of playing for the forces of Sauron, at least not now, as most of the game is free of player versus player combat. The character classes have unique names which fit with the Tolkien universe such as burglar, champion, and loremaster, but they fall into the standard MMORPG archetypical classes such as DPS, tank, crowd control, and pet handling. Once you've made your choice you begin in an introductory instance that will show you right from the beginning how important story is to this game. You may not be a member of the Fellowship, but you are made to feel as if you are playing a role in its success as well as in the war with the forces of Sauron.

The basics of the game will seem very familiar to anyone who's played an MMORPG before. You must make your way through a number of "kill X of this" and "collect Y of that" quests and there are times when you'll need to grind your way through fights in order to accumulate gold and experience. However these moments are made more bearable by the inclusion of a deeds system in the game. Kill a few of a certain class of creature or enemy and the game will reveal a new related deed. Accomplish the deed by killing enough of the corresponding type of enemy and you'll earn both a title and a perk in the form of a special character buff that can be equipped to boost your stats. The titles are more of an aesthetic bonus, but a nice one nonetheless. You can choose to activate any of the titles you've earned at any time and other players will see your active title displayed beneath your name, so you strut through Bree knowing that everyone can see that you're known as the "Defender of Roads" or "The Spider Slayer". Not all deeds are tied to grinding and slaughter; there are deeds to be had through exploration, trade skills, beating foes, and more. It's a nice little system for rewarding players outside of the traditional quest-based approach.