Review by bluemoogle
Everything you would expect from a game designed in WoW's shadow
The first rule of competition is imitate your competitors and do it better and cheaper. In the MMORPG market, many new and rising MMOs are using World of Warcraft as their benchmark, just as World of Warcraft used previous MMOs as its benchmark. It is now The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar's turn to compete, but how will it fair compared to the current champ?
Aesthetics - 10/10
To put it simply, LotRO looks great. The graphics on high settings rival the latest games and the very high or ultra high settings pushes the limit farther, especially when MMORPGs are concerned. Unlike other recent MMOs, LotRO does not suffer from serious slowdowns or lag when higher graphics are enabled. A system bought 1-2 years ago should have no problem playing the game at medium settings everywhere and get by with high settings outside of towns. Newer rigs, especially those with DirectX 10 video cards, should be able to handle very high and ultra high without difficulty and show truly beautiful displays.
LotRO puts a lot of emphasis on atmsophere. Well designed maps, especially cities, indoor places, and instances, have ambient objects scattered about and the world looks lived in. Outdoor environments allow a grand display of lighting and bloom effects, giving a true warm feeling. Regular gameplay has all the typical effects like a day/night cycle, weather, and environment effects like wind. A field of grass will sway and birds will fly overhead. Good atmosphere isn't exclusive to the good and happy locations; the evil and darker places also have nice touches and well thought out design. Instances also provide unique opportunities because they are on a separate day/night/weather/etc cycle, so they can offer unique looks separate from the regular world.
Audio is well done, but the true focus in this department is player made music. Players can learn to play instruments, depending on class, and play them together. This lets players make their own music in game. Songs can be conveniently stored by macro for more complex maneuvers. The default music is also well done. The only gripe in audio would be the lack luster combat sounds; some of them are annoying or unfinished sounding.
comparison notes: In this department, LotRO wins. WoW offers a unique art style with glitzy fantasy feel, but LotRO has more refined graphics and a special music system, giving it the advantage.
Questing/Grinding - 6/10
The meat and potatoes of any MMORPG is the questing and "grinding" system. The former is accomplishing tasks for NPCs, the latter is roaming the world and killing indiscriminately with one goal in mind: leveling up. LotRO puts far more emphasis on questing, so much that grinding is almost inapplicable. To some, this is a terrible downfall, as quests can become tedious and mindless. Grinding is still an option, but it is far slower than other MMOs.
The quests themselves are varied, but most are typical to MMO flair. There is the kill quest, the gather quest, the craft quest, the boss kill quest, the follow quest, etc. Quests start to become unique when the main storyline is introduced. Unlike other MMOs, LotRO has a main storyline for players to follow and it guides them from area to area. These quests are generally more epic feeling. Other quests, especially the ones in the Hobbit's home (the Shire) are non-combat based and fun, such as pie-eating contests.
comparison notes: While WoW has a deep backstory and numerous lore related quests, there isn't one main storyline in the game, so LotRO wins in the quest department. However, WoW has more opportunities outside of questing, so it balances out here.
Crafting - 7/10
Crafting provides players with the chance to fuel the economy, earn money, and do tasks outside of combat. LotRO takes crafting to the next step by not only having crafting professions, but crafting vocations. Vocations are a series of professions bundled into one based on a common attribute. For example, one vocation might be tailoring, armorsmithing, and prospecting because these professions compliment each other well. Beyond that, the crafting system is merely average, nothing too special. Players with experience in SWG, EQ2, or Vanguard may find LotRO's system as lacking, but other MMO players will see it as standard.
comparison notes: WoW and LotRO use an almost identical crafting system. There are gathering professions and building professions. Both are average and lackluster, so no clear advantage here.
End Game: Raiding and New Content - 8/10
End game is still up in arms at the moment. No one is quite certain how it will play out, but the first update to the game promises exciting new end game content and collectable rewards from the new dungeons and quests. LotRO's developers get the idea that a solid end game is needed to keep fans, so by the time players are high enough level to participate, there will plenty of raids to embark on. Currently, it is uncertain if there are any end game bosses, but it is known that the monster camp (see below) Orc Boss has a ridiculous amount of HP, lending itself to a potential raid. Given its location, it might even be PvP based.
comparison notes: Given the age of the two games, its obvious WoW has more end game content, especially with its new expansion pack. Given time, though, I see LotRO rivaling WoW's end game, so the two should balance. If you're a new player, however, end game really doesn't matter as you won't see that until much later in the game. So if you're using this review to decide between WoW and LotRO, it really won't matter because by the time you're high enough, both games will have ample opportunities.
Player v. Player combat - 8/10
While the system could use some tweaking, it has a lot of potential. Unlike some other MMOs, LotRO has a functiong PvP system out of the box and it can be quite entertaining. It's a bit unbalanced currently, but future patches will fix that. As for the concept, it's a little unique. While characters start out as the "good guys" fighting the "evil guys," higher level characters unlock monster characters, letting players play both sides of the war. Monster characters don't use money but rather destiny points. Destiny points is universal to the account, so points earned on one character can be used on another. Good characters can get minor temporary buffs using destiny points, but evil monster characters use destiny points to permanently become stronger, almost as if they were buying stronger equipment.
Both sides of the war can rank up when killing the opposite side. Destiny points are also earned for this, allowing stronger buffs to be used. PvP can unlock titles, deeds, and other aspects of the game that are also found in PvE, so PvP is encouraged and desirable. In other words, it's not just a diversion, it's an actual way for characters to become stronger and gain renown.
comparison notes: Some say WoW has terrible PvP and others say it has great PvP. Either way, WoW does one thing well: its easy to find it when you want it. LotRO might offer the same convenience later, but at the moment, its a little weak and definitely unbalanced. But if PvP is the deciding factor for choosing an MMO, I suggest waiting for more PvP-centric MMOs like Warhammer.
Overall - 8/10
LotRO is currently a satisfying MMORPG. It's not very unique, but it can be a fun distraction and an enjoyable way to kill some time. Will it grow into something more inspiring later? Perhaps. But currently its a little lacking in the "oh sweet!" department. It's just standard fair and that can turn people off, especially long time WoW veterans. At the same time, I still recommend that WoW players try the game out, because if WoW is becoming stale, LotRO may offer that slight difference to renew interest in the genre. It's definitely an easy transition, so don't hesitate to try it out if you see someone offering a buddy key. As for myself, I bought the game on pure impulse, not fully considering the implications. I was pleasantly surprised to see it was not a bad game and it's certainly playable. LotRO had a very smooth launch, it's almost bug free, and the servers are consistently up. Given time, it should grow into something grand. So the next time you're at the store and you see the game on the shelf, don't hesitate to give it a deeper inspection. You might find a gem.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
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