Friday, June 15, 2007

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Sidekick: Lord of the Rings: Online

A man can never escape his past, and likewise I can't escape my old pet project Although the site vanished from existance in September 2003, I still occasionally recieve freebies from my old contacts in the video game industry. Mostly I integrate these reviews in to to let you know about the latest gaming experiences, but occasionally having a Mac means I'm unable to spill the beans on the latest PC releases. But never fear help is on hand, thanks to the latest sidekick Martin Roberts, who was thrown in to the world of Middle Earth to bring you todays review:

Product Number: 168
How Much: £34.99 RRP plus £8.99 a month fee
Where can I buy it:
Developer: Turbine Entertainment
Publisher: Codemasters Online

As a fan of the Lord of the Rings series, I jumped at the chance to try out the latest offering: Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. The main appeal to this game is the opportunity to explore middle earth as it is depicted in the books by J.R.R Tolkien. The game is set around the time Frodo Baggins leaves the shire on his quest to destroy the one ring of power. The idea being that players themselves get to embark upon their own epic quests in this magnificent world, and even interect with certain events from the books.

In this pre-release pack I received:
• 1 full copy of the game (DVD).
• 10 days early ‘pre-release’ access to the game.
• A large window sticker.
• 6 exclusive mini stickers.
• A limited offer for lifetime subscription to LOTR online (UK £99.99, EUR €149.99).
• An exclusive in-game item card with a code to retrieve it upon full game purchase.

After installing the game and setting up the online account it was time to launch the game and create my very own character that I can use to explore the world of middle earth. To start with, you're faced with the choice of race and gender of the character. The choices being:
• Man (male and female).
• Dwarf (male only).
• Hobbit (male and female).
• Elf (male and female).

Depending on which race you choose, will have an impact on the classes you can choose for a character, which will define the style of play. Thankfully the creators supply short videos that briefly explain the various races, the classes you may select and also their role within the game. Once you have a pretty good idea of what to go for, you make your choice of race and class, and then get to edit the appearance. Traditionally character creation in this genre of game is quite limited, but there's some real effort on show here. Hair styles, eye colours and skin colours are all in there, all with ‘sub racial’ traits depending on where your character hails from within middle earth.

Now it was time to begin the game. Looking around, the visuals are quite impressive to look at, given the scope of this game with around 50 million square miles to explore. The interface appears simple and shares most similarities with the online giant ‘World of Warcraft’, which I believe can only be a recipe for success.

The first major event that i encountered was to rescue the burning town of Archet from the bandits nearby, which were under suspicion for some time. Also other information tells me that as a Dwarf (quote) 'you’ll see Gandalf and face the result of delving too deep in the Blue Mountains' which is intriguing stuff. Sub-quests range from having to retrieve a stolen item from some bandits, to killing some pesky boars which have been picking off the local livestock. And also preforming errands and favours too.

You can gain experience by killing the local wildlife (boars, spiders etc...), and bandits/hostile foes. Or by completing quests. Usually the two are closely knit together though. By gaining the experience, you gain levels, which enables you to learn new skills from a trainer of your chosen class. These skills prove essential in combat and in the development of your character throughout the game.

Moving onwards, I began following what appeared to be an intriguing and compelling storyline. Whilst there are many other quests to do within the world, this main story continues to be the focus and just keeps me wanting to see just how it develops.

While I have only had a few days to investigate this game to see what it has to offer. I get the feeling I have just only scratched the surface with just what this game is about. This is definately one game that has the potential to keep the player entertained for months, perhaps even bordering upon years.

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