Saturday, February 17, 2007

Now that the NDA has been lifted...

Here you can see a man of Gondor looking over the town of Combe (described in Robert Foster's Complete Guide to Middle-Earth as a "village in a valley in the eastern Bree-land.")

This is, of course, a screenshot from the beta test of Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. So far, I'm generally pleased. There are some Tolkien purists who object to the liberties being taken*, but so far I haven't seen anything that completely breaks it for me. I may change my mind if the "Lore-master" character class starts tossing explosive fireballs around at higher levels.

Much (ok, all) of the gameplay is virtually identical to World of Warcraft. Many people are disappointed by this. I'm not sure I am - WoW does so much right that just lifting essentially the same gameplay out of the generic-fantasy setting of WoW and plonking it down into Middle-Earth, with a less cartoonish graphic style... I can't complain very hard about that.

There are some clever and surprising touches, as well. For example, like other MMORPGs, this has a "newbie" area for new players/characters to get their feet wet without facing anything too deadly. For men and hobbits, this transitions seamlessly into the main game, but for elves and dwarves, those newbie quests take place years earlier. Actually, in the case of elves, I think it may be centuries earlier. As a dwarf, you get to start out in the Blue Mountains just as Thorin and Company are preparing to set out on their quest to the Lonely Mountain. Elves are present during an attack on the elven Refuge of Edhelion (not listed in Foster, unfortunately) by a group of corrupted dwarves, and then "return" to its ruins centuries later for the main game.

Basically, I like it well enough that I've already pre-ordered it. I'm contemplating whether I want to go all out and pay the $199 for a "lifetime membership", instead of the monthly fee - if I stay on it for 2 years, it'd be worth it, and I think I may do that. If you're interested (and have a fairly hefty computer...), they're doing an open stress test next weekend that you can sign up for at Gamespot.

And boy, it sure is pretty, ain't it?

* A particularly obtuse example: A group of characters working together in this game is, naturally, labeled a "Fellowship" (in WoW, they're called a Party. It's just "flavor" text). In this post, someone actually says, "I still am wondering why in Eru’s name a Fellowship does not consist of nine players". In other words, because the "Fellowship of the Ring" consisted of nine people, he believes that all "Fellowships" should always and exclusively consist of exactly nine people. Gaaah.

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