Review by Zell17

"By No Means a WoW Clone: A comparison review"

Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar, since it's open beta release, has had more blind criticism than any MMO since World of Warcraft took over the market. It is this reviewer's wholehearted intention to put the rumors to rest, and hopefully enlighten the reader on this particular MMO's unique aspects.

Gameplay
Being that gameplay is, of course, the most important part of the game, we should probably start with it. In short, LotRO is like most MMOs, but with lowered tedium. You'll get quests, you'll do some farming for items, you'll do some gathering and crafting...all the basic MMO fare. This will be long, but it's in nice paragraphs so you can look ahead for any particular section you want.

One major difference is that in LotRO, not every quest will make you "Kill 15 Bears" or "Collect 1 Really, Really, Really Rare Bear Tooth that requires you to kill around 50 Bears". Yes, those quests do exist, but just as often you'll get quests that have you checking an area, finding a satchel on the ground, or carrying an item somewhere else. The quests end up being a healthy mix of combat and exploration, greatly lowering the tedium of questing.

Combat is standard for MMOs. You have skills, basic attacks, different weapons, etc. Combat flows nicely, skills are diverse and interesting, having good applications. Yes, the skill bar is in the same place as WoW. No, WoW was not the first one to put the skill bar at the bottom. It's a logical place to put it, and it makes the game controls better. Why make the controls worse?

Grinding is almost completely gone as well. LotRO focuses much more heavily on the Story than World of Warcraft, meaning that your quests will often mean something. Being that they are so important to do, they end up giving you much more experience than just killing monsters. You'll find that, should you be desperate to reach that next level, you'll end up doing all the quests you can instead of killing monsters nonstop. However, for those that do enjoy the grind, LotRO has implemented Deeds. These will require you to kill that obscene number of Bears or use that skill an obscene number of times, and you are rewarded with Traits, which will increase your stats by a bit. A nice addition, however is that about a third of the way to that obscene number (usually 90 total), you'll get a title. Spider-Foe, Wolf-Tamer, Slug-Squisher, etc. Titles are just little bragging rights in the game to make you feel better than everyone else because you are killing a lot of Bears. There are titles for other accomplishments as well, and are just another nice thing added to LotRO. Anyway, if you do a lot of these deeds and get a lot of traits, you can end up getting some pretty nice stat ups, but being that LotRO is not PVP oriented, they definitely aren't mandatory.

The crafting system is nothing like WoWs as well. Every character gets 3 professions, and they advance these professions through tiers and mastering tiers. Once items from a tier are crafted enough times, you gain access to the next tier and the ability to master the previous one. Mastering the previous one allows you a chance for critical success when you craft, making you either make better items or more of the item. One nice addition is the free recipes you get when you go up a tier, rather than having to buy them all each time. Crafting doesn't require you to be certain levels, either, so if you wanted, you could sit in the shire at level 6 and craft until artisan tier, buying your materials from the auction hall. The crafting system overall seems to work better, and is easier to level up because the materials in each tier for each different item are nearly the same.

PVP is well thought out as well, and definitely not absent. Monster Play takes place in it's own area, where, when playing as a monster (which starts at level 50), you can gain destiny points, which you get from killing mobs or other players, to use to upgrade your monster. You can upgrade appearance, stats, and skills, similar to normal character, but without the levelling. I cannot say much more than this, as not many players have actually reached the area on their own characters, so you'll have to check another review later on to hear how it goes. It definitely looks promising.

Finally, LotRO has some touches added to gameplay simply to enhance the experience. Farmers can grow Pipeweed, which you can sit around and smoke with buddies, and everyone can play musical instruments, which you manually play using the 1-8 number keys, and ctrl and shift to make sharps/flats and change octave. The first free update in June promises an expanded music system as well, as the current one has gotten a great response. I've spent quite a bit of time just jamming with other players on my Lute.

Graphics
Stunning, amazing, beautiful. One of the prettiest MMOs to date. The world feels alive. Rather than WoW's sorry excuses for "towns", which I could never even imagine anyone living in (being that there were few to no houses), LotRO has full towns, cities, and villages, complete with residential houses and bustling citizens. When you look to the sky, sometimes you'll see birds fly from the trees into the distance. Speaking of the distance, Turbine added an amazing background to the areas, giving you the feeling of actually being somewhere, rather than just being in an MMO world. World of Warcraft's cartoony graphics and unrealistic environments don't hold a candle to this.

One gripe I do have is that everything is just a bit too plain. I understand that it's within lore to make the things plain, but I would like it if I had a bit more diversity in patterns on my equipment, or more diversity in sword blades. A minor annoyance.

Sound
LotRO features a score good enough to have it's own soundtrack. That says about everything that needs to be said, though I will say more. The music is nice, and is always fitting for the area. Sound effects are standard and don't detract from the game.

Summary
Hopefully I've been able to point out some of the major differences that make LotRO a unique game, and not just "another" WoW clone. (I use parentheses because, surprise, WoW is a clone of other games itself). Yes, it took some hints from other MMOs when designing the interface, but those things work well. Would you rather they had a bad interface? I know I wouldn't. LotRO has many other unique aspects, such as focusing on quests, deeds, traits, titles, monster play, music, and gorgeous graphics and sound that do actually make it stand out as a completely different and, in my opinion, better game.

9/10


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/01/07


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