Review by Chaos Control

"The novelty expires earlier than this here carton of milk"

After reading The Lord of the Rings, I was amazed at how somebody could create a world as large and diverse as Middle Earth. A huge world filled with people and monsters would be a perfect setting for a Massively Multiplayer Online game. It didn't take too long before one would come out, with the title of The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. The cover and screenshots of the game don't look that bad, but I started feeling like this was a scam even before I created my first character. To begin with, you need to shell out $50 to buy the game. But your $50 won't get you online and playing, because you only bought the installation discs and a product key. Sure, the product key will give you "30 days of free play", but after that, some nasty fellow out there will be rubbing their hands with glee as they soak up your money. It's almost feels like there is a leech in your pocket, feeding on your wallet. I know this is the same for all subscription based games, but The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar makes you more conscious that you are being scammed because the game isn't that captivating.

First off, there are some delays before you can start playing. After installing the game, you need to register for an account, and load up the game client. The game will then go into "update mode", where it will need to download over 3,000 files that was missing during installations. People with slow computers should look out, because downloading 3,000 files at 10KB/sec is very discouraging.

The story of The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar has some relevance to the actual book in the sense that you will see some familiar places and faces. Folks like Gandalf and Aragorn will show up, but only as quest givers. Much of the game's story is found in the form of quests. The way I see it, there is one big, over-arching main quest, with a bunch of side quests thrown in. Actually, it's more than a "bunch", because I can walk into cities with so many quest givers that it lags my game. The overwhelming number of quests open at the same time almost seems like I'm cleaning up my room, and I have clean it up one part at a time. People in Middle Earth can't take care of things themselves. They throw all their work on a poor player and give him rewards instead.

Certain quests will force you to form a fellowship to complete, like in the books. If you're unlucky enough to land in a deserted server, you'd be in trouble if you need a fellowship. There are many servers you can choose from, and characters you create in each server stay in that particular server. So if you want to play with your friends in another server, you must start over and create a new character, all the way at level 1.

When you create a character, you can choose from four races: Man, Elves, Dwarves, or Hobbits. Each race has their unique characteristic traits and skills. Each race also has different classes to choose from, like Guardians, who have roles of tanks, or Champions, and so on. You can choose between male or female models, and customize their faces and bodies to your liking.

The story can be reduced to ashes if you just skip the dialog and just accept the mission and the rewards. There are too few movies or anything like that to keep people mildly interested in the story. With the patience to read paragraphs of texts, you might find a cute tale to keep you entertained, but the meat of the game is in the game play, with leveling that you can't skip, unfortunately.

The most important part of the game play is the quests. No matter which class or race you choose at the beginning, a majority of the quests are the same. The scripts and quests are actually pretty well thought out. The details of the quest, the rewards, and the requirements are clearly laid out in an organized fashion for easy understanding. Although the appearance of the quests looks good and the monsters/items you need to kill/collect are nicely named, the basic concepts haven't changed. Kill X many monsters, obtain X number of Y items, or talk to this guy in another city. Personally, I also had some difficulties with the geography and orientation of the game. When the quests says to find an item located "west" of some ruins, I actually had to look more "southwest" or even "south" to find what I was looking for. Finding what the quest demands takes even longer when along the way, you meet some aggressive monsters who attack you if you get within 10 meters of them. Don't think about running away, you coward, because you'll probably attract more monsters as you run, who will chase you halfway across the country. If by chance they've got friends, they will all gang up on you in a completely fair, orderly battle.

Some quests are even more annoying because they "highly recommend" forming a fellowship to complete a quest. If you are lucky enough to have friends playing with you on the same server, with the same quest, you can team up and battle the big, boss enemy. If not, you gotta join up with strangers.

After a little bit, the quests will lose a bit of novelty, if sheer number of them already haven't. The boredom factor will set in pretty quickly because you are doing nothing more than hacking and slashing while using some skills in between. Completing quests will still be the best way of earning experience. If killing one monster will get you 16 XP, I'd rather complete the mission and gain 300 XP instead. But too bad, to gain a new level, I need like ten times that.

The boring part of the game is to watch the XP bar at the bottom take a long time to fill up. The difference between XP needed to level up between levels increases exponentially, so getting to a high level means spending days grinding and battling the same monsters over and over again. So after you level up and pat yourself on the back, you rush over to your class trainer, learn some new skills, sell some enemy drops to NPC's, and now what? You go complete more quests, and kill more monsters. That's IT. This is what you are paying for. There are grocery stores that are more exciting that this.

Financially, the game is set up like this. You have copper coins, silver coins, and gold coins. They all have different values, like 100 copper coins equals 1 silver coin. What's so difficult about just having Gold Coins and one number counter? Well, whatever. When you try to sell an item, the game will give you the current monetary estimate of how much everything in your bag is worth. This is good. As you hover your mouse over certain equipment, a little window will show up comparing that piece of equipment with what you are currently equipping. To make money, you need to complete quests or sell items dropped by enemies. Enemies like Humans drop equipment rather frequently, which is good for its value. This is only at the beginning though, because as you obtain better equipment, you will have to repair them. Even your armor has a "health bar", so you must to go an NPC and pay the high fee to repair your equipment. With plenty of equipment to repair, you won't be spending much time buying weapons/armors. The quests give better rewards anyway.

Looking for something else to waste your time on? Look no further, try out the Monster Play mode! You get to play as a race of monster at level 50. Sounds cool, but I fail see a point in spending much time in this mode, as it's even worse than the main game. You don't get to equip items, of course, and everything you do depends on your Destiny Points. You need these points for skills and whatnot, and you can only get them through killing monsters and completing missions. There are few positive things you can say about this, but I'll warn you that you will end up dying a lot.

Dying sucks. It really does. Normally, you are sent back to a starting location and lose a lot of your hard earned experience. In this game, however, you don't lose XP, but instead your morale (HP) drops to zero and you are forced to "retreat". Thank god for minor death penalties. I've had bad experiences leaving my character in a "secure location" and minimizing the game to look up quest walkthroughs, only to return to the game and find my character killed.

Yet another distraction from the game's flaws are the deeds, which you find along the main quest. Some deeds include completing all the quests in Bree-land for example, or defeating 30 spiders. Completing deeds will earn nice rewards like the "Spider-Foe" Title for the latter. Titles only change your name and not much else. Something like (Your character's name) of Gondor. Sounds nice right? Ha, some of the deeds require you to use a certain skill 1,500 times. Not my idea of fun. I'm paying real money to be able to use a skill 1,500 times. Seriously mind blowing.

Bored yet? Learning about all the aspects of a MMORPG is difficult the first time, and even more boring, the game is all about repetitive fighting, quests, and getting lost trying to complete missions. Let's talk about the only real positive aspect of the game, which are graphics. The graphics are stunningly beautiful with very smooth motions... outside of a city. The trees, buildings, and the overall environments are deliciously good looking... only when you are outside of a city. Even dungeons with torches and enemies seem to be alive. Being a Lord of the Rings game, you will find tons of dead bodies everywhere in very realistic (and depressing) poses. I'm talking about people killed and wrapped in spider webs, dead bodies lying on farms, whew. If your computer can handle higher graphics without severe lag, you might even get lost in the beauty of the game. The landscape combined with the always beautiful blue sky is truly a sight to see. This is only feature that's worth your money, but not so much if you can only play on low graphics settings and resolution. At least our natural environment looks clean, not polluted, and actually very enjoyable.

The story is completely different in a city. The first thing you notice when you walk into a city is how the game lags, your frame rate decreases, and you have a tough time moving about. Considering the resources they put into the game, there is no reason lag should happen when you aren't playing on an overcrowded server. The good thing is, the people in the city do seem lively, with speech above their heads and people always wandering about.

The thing that irks me is the load times. Whenever you enter a building, you need to wait for a loading screen to completely load. This may take up to 30 seconds or more, which is inexcusable considering how good the game is supposed to be. I tend to avoid entering buildings as much as possible due to this inconvenience.

As you equip items onto your character, you can see actual changes to their body. Equipping new Leather leggings, for example, and you can see the actual clothing on the body. Equipping a new sword, shield, or staff has the same effect. Character and NPC models all look pretty good. The enemy designs are decent as well, especially the spider enemies which are just as creepy as real spiders. Overall, the graphics are stunning when you have a very powerful computer, but not nearly as impressive when put on the lowest setting to optimize performance. I'm talking Free-2-Play MMORPG level.

In the sound department, I was not impressed. The background music will serve its purpose, but it's boring enough for me to turn it off in the settings, and have iTunes in the back playing some real music. There is also some degree of voice acting for NPC's, although that doesn't happen frequently enough. When you talk to a merchant for example, she will say "How do you do?", only in an annoying high pitched voice. I almost want to turn that off too. The voice acting is minimal in this game, and done in a half-hearted manner.

Sounds effects are present as well. You will hear swords clashing, the sound of spells, grunting of animals and your character (which is weird), sound of boots walking, and more. You don't play too much attention these sound effects because they are standard, except your character's strange grunting, so overall an acceptable job is done here.

As for your play time, the time you spend will either be really short, or really long. You might play this game for the free trial month and then quit, if you haven't already. You can also play the game using the Buddy Product Key, which will let you play for free for 10 days. 10 days is long enough for anybody to realize that this game isn't worth the time commitment or money, and quit. Some people may just buy a lifetime membership instead, meaning they will never have to pay again and can play as long as the game is in service. The only thing is, that costs $299. And with the original game purchase of $50, you pay a grand total of $349 for an game that's prettier, but not much different from any other Free-2-Play games. Personally, I only lasted 10 days of The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar.

With the amount of quests, the replay value is moderately high until you get bored of it. As you level up, you will be able to travel to new places in the big world and fight the same monsters with new names. Join new fellowships or find a profession for yourself. Enjoy the sights while you're at it. However, leveling up your characters can get very tedious and very boring considering the huge leap in between levels.

That is the same as a typical MMORPG, isn't it? Yes, but if I'm gonna shell out big money to play this game, at least make is somewhat engaging. XP requirements for leveling up increase exponentially, and that doesn't help. I can get the same thing out of free online games. But then why play this game? For the pretty graphics? I don't think graphics alone constitutes spending money on this game, even if it bears the "Lord of the Rings" name. I do not recommend buying or even playing a trial of this game. With the money you would spend on this game and a lifetime membership, why not buy a Wii and have money left over for other games? You could even buy 329 McChickens from McDonald's and make better use of your money.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 07/17/07, Updated 07/27/07

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