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The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar

Ed Zitron kicks the hobbit and finally makes something of himself...

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KEEPING IT REAL
There's a real sense of wonderment to some of the environments you see. The Iron Hills (the starting area for dwarves and elves) are a bit like Dun Morogh, gigantic rolling hills of snow and ice but with a very stone-borne feel to them. Unlike WOW, Turbine have gone for a somewhat realistic feeling (as realistic as you can get with dwarves and elves), thus everything has a very immediate 'Wow!' factor to it - and not the Blizzard-made one, either.

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Instead of easing you in with wolf-killing and kobold problems, Angmar forces you into a sense of being part of something really epic. Quests lead you over hill and over dale, ranging from simple goblin bashing to eventually chasing down a dwarf-betrayer. The game pulls you in by making every quest have a meaning - an actual reason for it being there, as opposed to the random nature of WOW quests.

As Turbine man Jeff Anderson indicates: "We want to make sure that the game is a terrific Tolkien experience... We want to put people in critical moments in time."

HE'S BEHIND YOU!
Kicking off with a bang, a noob character begins by joining Gimli in a mine in Thorin's Halls, murdering cave monsters and trying to stop an old dwarf from wasting his time cracking open a wall. All this, only to see it shatter in front of him, and watch in horror as a bloody great troll sends him tumbling across the fl oor, dead. As your life flashes before your eyes, big-and-beardy Gandalf jumps in to save the day, cracking a hole in the top of the cave and turning the bastard to stone.

Actual levelling is done in much the same style of WOW, with the usual state of killing things and doing quests rewarding you with experience. Predominantly, quests require you to get to a certain goal, for example, making it to the end of an instance alive to view Angmar's equivalent of a cut-scene - usually a chunk of storyline unfolding in front of you. To mix things up, Turbine have given players something a little different, using Xbox 360-ish achievements to keep you playing. As a champion for example, you can get stat upgrades by using certain attacks more.

MONSTER MASH
These achievements can also be unlocked by visiting certain places, killing certain monsters or just doing the right thing. The rewards vary from a paltry title at the end of your name to traits, which add depth to character customisation beyond simple gearing-up. What's more, with a lot of these coming from character achievements, there's a lot of potential for diversity.

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Plus, with class boundaries being somewhat diverse, there's the ability to ready yourself for a lot of situations. Groups and guilds will be pleased to know that fellowships and kinships look easy to set up too, the latter being a case of inviting whatever members you want, with no limits to how many or few people you can have in each guild. Angmar's fellowship system is a similar take to EverQuest II's heroic opportunities, using a combo system that allows you to damage your enemies or heal your group with the right series of moves. While not rocket science, it allows for a bit of variety to the otherwise stoic MMORPG cliché of bashing your number keys and staring wide-eyed at your health-bar.

Since the beginning of development, Turbine have had an uphill battle to extinguish the fires of past development hell and push LOTRO to be a competitor in the MMO industry - especially with its intention of being the "one game to rule them all". They've taken bits and pieces of other games, from the tactile feeling of combat in WOW and the deep quest system in EverQuest II, and then built upon them to make a significant whole immersed in the Tolkien mythology. As far as things are shaping up so far, it's thoroughly enjoyable, immersive and fun stuff.

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