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Publisher: Midway Games
Minimum requirements: Pentium 4 1.8 GHz CPU, 512 MB RAM, 64 MB NVIDIA GeForce 3 or ATI Radeon 8500, DirectX 9.0c, Windows XP, 7 GB hard drive space, 56 KPBS modem.
Release date: Available now
Review by: Ivaylo Kovatchev
Would J.R.R. Tolkien be rolling in his grave if he knew what a massively multiplayer online game is and learned Turbine Entertainment had made Lord of the Rings Online? Is LOTRO an original game that stands on its own merits, or is it populistic, preprocessed digital tofu, owing its existence to the massive wake of Peter Jackson’s film trilogy? Considering the films themselves were based on the seminal books by Tolkien, the content reaching the player has been twice rehashed.
Once the loader for LOTRO comes up and prompts you to click, you enter Turbine’s interpretation of Middle Earth. The design team was most likely faced with the question of how to immerse you in tales that focus on The Fellowship and the unique characters that comprise it. Turbine settled on the obvious solution – make the characters normal heroes. Saruman’s presence in the Shire is moved up in time, and the agents of the White Hand are swarming. The Witch King of Angmar, chief among the Ringwraiths, is an ever present malevolent force with which you must contend. And the presence of darkness is much more overt than in Tolkien’s books; various aggressive beasts dot the land and the servants of the Dark Lord are not mere rumors, but stalk every shadow of Eriador.
The game world consists of Bree-land and the Shire, which are the Hobbit and Human starting areas. The more obscure Edhelion serves as an entry point for new Dwarvish and Elven adventurers. Various other zones fill out the region of Edhelion, which you can’t leave at this time. The storyline revolves around several main characters and advances the quest up to Rivendell, where you must wait for an expansion pack in order to continue your adventures. You’ll meet Strider and countless minor characters such as Farmer Maggot, Barliman Butterbur, Bill Ferny, Tom Bombadil and a host of others.
LOTRO is played, as any other MMOG, by connecting to a world server through a client. The interaction with the game world is driven by a character avatar, which you create as a multi-part process, picking race and gender, class and heritage. Classes include Loremaster, Hunter, Guardian, Minstrel, Champion, Captain and Burglar. Each one presents you with a variety of skills, most of which need to be unlocked by progressing through levels. Advancement is measured by experience points earned as part of quest rewards or through defeating enemies. Aside from skills, characters have morale and focus attributes. Morale equates to hit points, and if it ever reaches zero, the character is defeated and sent to a safe area. Small amounts of power are used for each skill you wish to employ. While skills vary in usefulness and application, all active skills adhere to the same cool down mechanic found in all MMO games: a skill can’t be reactivated before a set amount of time elapses.
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