First Look: War of the Ring - An RTS set in Middle earth

War of the Ring Screenshot 5 of 5 - Hunting Gollum through OsgilathWar of the Ring Screenshot 5 of 5 - Hunting Gollum through OsgilathYesterday I was invited to a huge press event here in Los Angeles.  The event was put on by VU Games (Vivendi Universal Games) regarding their upcoming releases.  The event was booked as their Pre3 Event (Pre E3 Event).  All who atteneded were able to take a look at and play all the games that VU was going to show at E3.I took the opportunity to send some quality time talking with the producers at Black Label and the developers themselves at Liquid Entertainment. 

Liquid is working on a Real Time Strategy Game for release in first quarter in 2004.  If you are unfamiliar with Liquid, they are the people behind Battle Realms from a year or so ago.  This time Liquid is taking us to Middle-earth and into Tolkien's world. 

War of the Ring Screeshot 4 of 5 - Yikes! What's a Troll Doing here?War of the Ring Screeshot 4 of 5 - Yikes! What's a Troll Doing here?One of the key aspects of this game is that the Liquid has access to everything in the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.  This means that you will be seeing and playing with characters you didn't see in the movies.  Also this allows the developers to leave the ring story behind and concentrate on other aspects of Tolkien's Middle-earth.  In talking with the devlopers, they mentioned that before starting War of the Ring, they sat down and made a list of all the historical battles and enounters for the good guys and the bad guys and they came up with around 120 encounters for each side which could be made into a level in a single player game.  Of course the released game will not have this many levels but this points out how much can be done with a RTS in Middle earth.

Another interesting aspect of the game is that of heros.  In single player mode, the good side power is focused on heros while the evil side is focused on numbers.  This allows for gamers to focus on playing the harsh realities of trying to keep important people alive, while the evil side, you are trying to create as many units as possible. 

War of the Ring Screenshot 3 of 5 - Elves vs. SpidersWar of the Ring Screenshot 3 of 5 - Elves vs. SpidersIn multiplayer, the case is different.  Each side will have access to basically 5 Heros.  Each side will have a scout hero.  For the good it will be Frodo with his ring.  For the evil side it will be Gollum.  This alone will produce some interesting interactions when these two scouting units run into each other on the map.  The second tier of Hero will be Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn for the Good.  The Forces of Evil will get Grishnak, a Haradrim Commander, and a Troll.  The final tier of Heros will be Gandalf and Saurman. 

The game itself is very beautiful.  The grass waves in the wind, and the water responds to people rushing through it as well as units falling into it.  In one example Legolas used his special ability (all hero's have special abilities) to knock back a couple Orcs into the river where the promptly made a huge splash and sent ripples accross the water.  Another aspect of the game which makes it beautiful is the forests.  Tree's rise up out of the ground obscuring vision.  When your units walk behind the large tree trunks, they become semitransparent, allowing you to still see the units behind them.  This aspect of the maps reminds me alot of Dungeon Siege and how they handled their forests.

War of the Ring Screenshot 2 of 5 - Orcs vs. RangersWar of the Ring Screenshot 2 of 5 - Orcs vs. RangersBecause this is an RTS, resources are going to be important to collect.  It was decided that 2 resources would do.  The two resources you collect is Ore and Food.  This keeps this part of the game simple and easy.  Each side has a basic resource gathering unit, just as you would expect from any RTS game.

In the version of the game I played (a very early build) there were only a limited number of units and buildings I could build.  The buildings were the basic Town Hall building, a Mill, a Ranger encampment, a Gondorian encampment, and an Elvish outpost.  These buildings allowed me to produce Rangers, Gondorian Swordsmen, and Elvish Rangers.  The Town Hall allowed me to produce resource collectors.  Each building could have a rally  point set as well as a production queue.  So I could queue up 5 Elvish bowman and tell them to rally at the entrance to my encampment.

War of the Ring Screenshot 2 of 5 - Orcs vs. RangersWar of the Ring Screenshot 2 of 5 - Orcs vs. RangersCombat is handled in pretty much the same way that it is in every other RTS game on the market, and the movement commands are pretty much what you would expect;  Go, Attack, Patrol, Stop.  I can't say much for the AI in the version I played as it was an early build, but pathfinding does seem to be something I had a problem with.  The speed of combat is somewhere between Starcraft and Warcraft 3.  It's not as quick as Starcraft, and isn't as slow as Warcraft. 

I didn't take any notes as to how many units could be grouped together, but It was somewhere around 12.  Also the developer said that they were able to put over 300 units (it could have been 500, I can't read my own notes) on the screen before it crashed.  But not to expect this in the game as this was on one of their rather beefy machines.  The current game limit is 100 units per side, with some units taking up more than one space in the number of units pool (just like StarCraft and WarCraft 3).

War of the Ring screen shot 1 of 5 - Hobbits vs. SpidersWar of the Ring screen shot 1 of 5 - Hobbits vs. SpidersOne aspect that I'm still not convinced about is one of the abilities that we saw for the evil side, which was to summon the Balrog.  I like the idea of the Balrog being a unit which is in play, but the Balrog should be an independent unit.  In other words, the forces of evil could never control him, and he should lumber around the map destroying the largest encampment of troops until dead.  Then again this is just my idea, and I've yet to see how the Balrog will be in play. Currently the Balrog is very cool, he cracks the ground wherever he goes, and he shakes the whole screen whenever he walks.  He also has the ability to shake the ground and attack everyone near him. 

All in all, the game looks wonderful, and I know that Jonathan and I will be playing it for at least a couple months after its release instead of our normal StarCraft.  It will be interesting to see how this diamond in the rough gets polished and released.

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