The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar review
Shadows of Angmar is the first major MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) to hit the shops since World of Warcraft, and it isn’t hard to spot the source of its inspiration.
The basic premise of the game is the same as every other online RPG: start off with a low-level character armed with a cardboard shield and garden fork, and progress to a level-50 hero, replete with magical plate armour and a sword that could cut a water molecule in two. You do this by gaining experience, gleaned through completing quests. Kill a named mob, find an item, deliver a message and, of course, kill enemy creatures. Get enough experience and you go up a level, although each increase is exponential, so moving from level 10 to level 11 takes the same time as it did to get from 1 to 10.
An area that’s changed little from the days of Dungeons & Dragons is the attributes of your character. Fighters and heavily armoured mlée warriors go toe-to-toe with the enemy, while Lore Masters are a long-range spellcasting class. All characters have a range of skills – agility, stamina, fate and so on – defining what sort of player you have and what he can and can’t do. You can improve these skills in two ways: by going up a level, which automatically increases all your stats; and acquiring items such as armour and rings.
Of course, the Tolkien element is the crux of the game and what differentiates it from all others. Every character from the book, from Gandalf to Sauron, is scattered about, along with many enemy monsters. The game certainly excels in the visual department: from the rolling hills around the Shire, through to the dark mountains of Mordor, it doesn’t just feel like a Tolkien licence, but looks the part too.
The game has two strands to it: the main storyline quest that takes you across Middle Earth and, eventually, into the badlands of Mordor. You need to increase your level before embarking on pivotal missions, though, so the second thread is the literally hundreds of subquests that gain you experience and gold. While some of these missions can be done solo, the majority require you to form a party and take them on in a group.
The servers themselves have thousands of players active at any one time, although since they’re all Europe-based the numbers decline in the small hours, leaving you struggling to find a group. On the flip-side, there are no annoying American teenagers and everyone communicates in English.
It isn’t just the graphics, nor is it the diverse range of enemy creatures, atmospherics and moody environments that set Lord of the Rings apart: it’s the feeling of purpose you get while playing. While other games just drop you in an environment with no sense of direction, Lord of the Rings has a plot and storyline that carries you through the game. It’s compulsive enough that you want to keep on playing, but not so addictive that your interest is blown out after a week of non-stop play. Whether it’s exploring the Shire or dungeon-crawling with your gang, the game just keeps getting better – and with a bucket-load of free updates due for release over the summer, it’s unlikely to get stale in the foreseeable future.