The One Ring Review: Lord of the Rings - Shadows of Angmar

Lord of the Rings: Shadows of Angmar is released today! Here at The One Ring, we already have an active community of folks playing the game. Check out our LOTRO forum, and if you're willing, join the Kinship of fans playing the game here at The One Ring.

Below you'll find a review by one of our resident LOTRO players, Elladan_Elfhelm. So, if you're still thinking about playing this game, I think this review will help you make up your mind.

Lord of the Rings Online Review
By Elladan_Elfhelm

Middle-earth LandscapeMiddle-earth LandscapeIt was on an evening in August 2006 when I sat down at my desk in my little office at home and opened up my email. My eyes immediately grew wide when I saw in bold letters the words: Turbine Beta Program. I could also see other words that immediately caused my mouse to quiver as I clicked on the email and opened it up. To my wonder and surprise I had just received my invitation to join the Alpha stage of Beta testing for Lord of the Rings: Shadows of Angmar.

What followed was a myriad of downloads, character creations, character wipes, sleep derived nights, stiffened legs from sitting too long, upgrades to the computer, a preorder placement, and…oh wait you don't want to hear of these things in a review, so I will stop there. I first read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy back in the late 1980s, and I immediately fell in love with the story, the characters, and the whole setting of Middle Earth itself.

So it was with great excitement when I heard about the movies being made, and I enjoyed them greatly, even though they strayed from the books more than I would have liked, but that is another tale in and of it self. When I discovered the makings of a supposed online game for LOTR I was greatly intrigued. At the time it was called Middle Earth Online, but that faded for the most part, and I was left with written Middle Earth Role Play here on TORC, and the other style of LOTRO related video games.

Gandalf, a dwarf, and an ElfGandalf, a dwarf, and an ElfBut then my heart leapt with joy when Turbine took over the rights and changed the name to Lord of the Rings: Shadows of Angmar. I signed up for the Beta, and was accepted into it on the second stage of Alpha testing. My first experience with the game was one of wonder as I created my very first character: a Captain from one of my written role-plays here. The game started with a solo instance that threw me into the immersive setting of my very first Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG).

As I entered the world I saw my first hobbit in the instance, and I knew immediately that I was in JRR Tolkien's beloved Middle-Earth. I slew a few brigands, and then all that separated me from certain death at the hands of a Nazgul was a crude metal fence, and a Ranger of the North. Due to a convenient fire started by a wise female hobbit, the Nazgul was forced to flee, but not before striking down the Ranger and plunging me into a story that I believe JRR Tolkien would be very proud of.

LOTRO: Shadows of Angmar definitely has the feel of Middle-Earth to it. Humans and Hobbits begin their journey in Archet, while the Elves and Dwarves begin their adventures in the mountains of Ered Luin. After leaving Archet, and visiting Combe and Staddle, the storyline took me to the town of Bree and the fabled Prancing Pony Inn. I took numerous screenshots of the Inn when I first saw it, and was greatly pleased when I entered the Inn where Barliman Butterbur was ready to greet me.

It is hard to say which race is the better one. I am partial to the men of Rohan, but I have a great heart for the hobbits of the Shire. Each class has its own advantages, disadvantages, appeal, and playability. A Captain of Rohan riding his horse across the land, a dwarf working at the forges in Thorin's Halls, an elf passing quietly through the forests, and of a course a hobbit coming home from a full day of farming, settling down on a bench at the Party Tree, lighting his pipe and waiting for supper to be ready all have their individual appeal.

The game is based solely on the books of JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, so anyone looking to compare the sights and sounds to the movies by Peter Jackson will be slightly disappointed. As you journey across the land you will encounter numerous sets of ancient Dunedain ruins. I was greatly impressed by the intricate details given to these ancient places, and they were a great treat to find. As you discover the many places you can venture to, you will know that this was something the movies did not and could not capture in the allotted time they had.

The graphics in the game are some of the best I have seen in any game. The characters do not look 'cartoony,' and they have fluid motions and animations as you move them about the land. Combat graphics are very well done, and they vary according to race and class. The graphics settings can be adjusted from very low to an exceptional hi-rez setting that on a good machine will have stunningly beautiful textures and effects. Looking out over the land from high atop some of the climbable peeks reveals a panorama of wonderful sights that are taken directly from Tolkien's Middle-Earth.

Game play is handled by mouse and keyboard input, and is easy to indoctrinate yourself with after only a short time playing. The opening tutorials will instruct you on the ease of use of the User Interface (UI), and many parts of it are adjustable via the Options panel. Combat is skill based in that as you progress you are granted more and more powerful skills to use against your foes. There is also an auto-attack feature that allows you to let your character stand toe-to-toe against your opponent. The computer will take over and your character will make various animated attacks against the enemy. The more powerful combat moves though come from the skills that you gain as you progress in level.

I have heard several comparisons that LOTRO: Shadows of Angmar has with other MMORPGs, but I only have very limited experience with any others. I will say that from what I have seen of the other mainstream MMORPGs LOTRO can hold it's on with any of the competition. From talking to several players from other MMORPGs, you will find some elements that can be compared with the interface and layout, but when you see the door to Bag End you will know that you have entered one very special place.

As you travel on your journeys there will be a few times when you will cross paths with the members of the Fellowship of the Ring. No you cannot travel with them, but you will be allowed to interact with them for a brief time at least. The main story line that you will become involved in will have you aiding the people of Eriador. Many of them you will recognize from the books, but many more are fully developed characters that will direct your paths across the land. As you might expect you will be given quests that can vary from dangerous, to tricky, to intricate, to almost impossible to complete (notice I said 'almost impossible') to the simple mail and pie deliveries in the Shire. There is something for every type of player when it comes to the quests, and Turbine has done a wonderful job here. Many are solo player friendly, but just as many will require you to form your own fellowship of adventurers to complete.

One thing I really like about LOTRO: Shadows of Angmar is the fact that someone who has little to no video game experience can install the game and within just a short amount of time they can be venturing across the vast regions of Middle-Earth. The game lends itself to the causal, the hardcore, and of course the Role Playing gamer. The story itself has fostered thousands if not millions of people over the years with the availability of Role Playing. The game has all of the settings that you could think of for a first class Role Play, and with the emote system you can have your character act out numerous Role Play animations.

LOTRO: Shadows of Angmar is the first MMORPG with JRR Tolkien's Middle-Earth as a setting. It has been a long time in coming, and from my experience with the game it has been well worth the wait. If you have ever wanted to see the Shire, cross the Brandywine Bridge, get lost in the Barrow Downs, visit the Prancing Pony, see the ancient ruins of Weathertop, or sit down in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell then step out of your hobbit hole and see where the road takes you. Lord of the Rings: Shadows of Angmar hits the shelves today, April 24th 2007.

Click here to get your copy!

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