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Lord of the Rings Online Editorial: The Way Back Machine: LotRO's E3 2006 Preview

By Drew Wood on March 27, 2011

I had been a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's works since I was still but a school boy, kindling my love of fantasy with Dungeons and Dragons. The world that he had created, a rich tapestry of interesting characters, moral value and true fellowship, was one that any child (if he could get into the rather dry prose) could easily lose him or herself into. That's why when I heard about Lord of the Rings Online, I wanted in. I wanted to create a character to run around in Middle Earth and I wanted to be a part of that epic story. I didn't get to be part of the direct story, per se, but I did get to interact with the world and be a part of that rich mythos. In this article from May 18th, 2006, Danielle Vanderlip takes a look at Lord of the Rings Online by way of the E3 preview. There was so much pressure to get this game right, Tolkien fans are amongst some of the most rabid in fandom.

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Let me start this article with a brief albeit respectful statement. I am not a Tolkien fan in any rabid sense. This does not mean that I don’t like his works at all, but I wanted to be honest so that people had a better understanding of where I came upon the following opinions and so that what I say is taken at face value as neither a fangirl or as a Tolkien hater.

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We got the chance to sit down and take a good look at Lord of the Rings Online™:Shadows of Angmar™ on Thursday May 11th at E3. Despite my lack of rabidity for all things Tolkien I have found myself very intrigued by what it will offer and how they would pull off creating an interactive experience based on a very linear storyline without interrupting the core storyline itself. What I spent time learning both from reading the site as well as our little sit down with Executive Producer Jeffrey Steefel made me very happy and even more interested in seeing what the folks at Turbine had up their sleeves.

I know this is a game that many Tolkien fans are looking at with both excitement and trepidation. What will Turbine do? How close to the storyline will they stay? I can assure you that Turbine is doing their utmost to do right by the Tolkien and are working very closely with the foundation in order to make sure they make the most use of the Intellectual Property (IP) as well as tell a compelling and interactive story.

As it was explained to us, players get to take on the role of support without actually being support characters for the real Fellowship. There is a storyline that has been developed that basically surrounds the main focus of the story we all know all too well of the Fellowship of the Ring. The additional story is based on the rising Witch King Angmar himself and his servants. Your role is to do what you can on the outside of things to make the way clear for the Fellowship to continue their journey by engaging in a battle of equal importance. Without you and your help and that of those like you, the Fellowship would have to face a far larger foe than they are already. You are as much a hero or heroine as the Fellowship them selves.

Some Tolkien purists may hate this idea, but I found myself warming up to the care that was taken by the team not to step on the proverbial toes of the original plotline. Players will get to interact with the main figures of the Lord of the Rings sporadically through their quests so that they can feel as if they are a more vital and connected part of the whole.

We were shown one of the starting areas very briefly and informed that the starting experience for every player would basically be instanced so that you can get the feel of the story from the start without any interference from other players. Once the starting area is complete, you will join the rest of the players out in the ‘live’ world and begin the multi-player aspect of the game.

We got to see the prancing pony in Bree and a little bit of the surrounding area. I think that many people will be very happy to know that it is most likely exactly as you pictured it. The graphics are clear and crisp and the attention to detail is very much present as you look around.

The storyline is very much a living breathing creature and tends to hold to the traditional RPG elements. It intertwines within itself and is an evolving creature. Even more interesting is the idea of layered instancing. We were shown a quest in which you were given a task by Tom Bombadil to go in after the Witch King himself even though he knows there is no way you could truly accomplish this task. It’s a mere test to see if you have the fortitude to go after such a powerful foe. At the end of the quest the cavern begins to quake from something Tom does and the cavern opens up becoming deeper and revealing new areas. While you can’t experience them this time around, they will be open for you later on down the quest line. While you won’t be able to repeat the quest, you’ve opened up a whole new area to explore later and that feeling of ‘familiar but different’ will be something you can experience in entering the caverns again at a later point.

We asked about how exactly magic would work it was explained that not everyone could be a Gandalf and that with there only being 5 wizards in the world the likelihood of wizards being available in the game was unlikely to keep with the tradition. That said, magic would be in the game and is an ever-present part of the world of Middle Earth. Players could get access to magic however it would be through other means like potions and flash powder bags as an example. Magic would be a more subtle part of the world but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to see a visible effect of some sort when using it.

One thing that had never been ironed out from our reading of the site was whether or not there would be crafting within the game. It was something last we had read was in consideration. When I asked Jeffrey of what had come of their deliberations we learned that crafting was very much in for Lord of the Rings. In fact we were told there would be nine professions and three vocations to choose from. While all the details aren’t ironed out yet, the team seemed excited about what they were working on.

There was a lot to see when we first sat down and with a little cheating here and there on the part of our illustrious demonstrator, we were able to see quite a bit to realize that the world that Turbine is creating is extremely rich and detailed. It is bound to please even the most discerning Tolkien fan and non-fan alike. As we watched the dwarf run we could see his braids in his beard swinging back and forth and watch the mountains appear to rise up over the vistas.

Will there be PvP? I actually didn’t ask at the time of our interview. I have a reason for this however. They have a very compelling reason for not having it at this point in time. It wouldn’t do to have Elves ganking Hobbits in the Shire now would it? Perhaps later on they will evaluate some way of having PvP in some limited fashion but in general Lord of the Rings isn’t exactly a PvP world when you can only play the side of the Fellowship. You will however be able to temporarily take over ‘evil’ NPCs but we didn’t get too much more on that as of this time.

What we saw was just the tip of the iceberg and I have a feeling it’s a very large iceberg. I found myself pleasantly surprised and intrigued about experiencing what the people at Turbine have been working on and believe that many others will feel the same. The graphics are well done and the game itself is being handled with great care and respect for both the fans and for the very subject matter that they are working with. The storyline is one that lends itself to the more Role-play inclined and offers an abundance of material to do so. If you’re not hung up on having a factional PvP world and love the idea of experiencing the Shire or visiting the Prancing Pony in person, I’d highly suggest putting this on your ‘one to watch’ list.

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This was before Player V. Monster Player. This was before F2P. This was before magic was more wholly accepted into the game. Like any other MMO, LotRO, based on one of the most prolific intellectual properties of all time, was still a living, breathing thing with room for alteration, with room for change and compromise.

For all it's faults, LotRO may just be one of the finest examples of an IP MMO out there today, having bowed to the original IP out of respect, but not letting the confines of the original story and the original universe alter the way it has grown and spread. Not all Tolkien fans like it, but those that do, like it a lot. While Danielle's original look was at a game that resembles more the framework or skeleton of the game we now have, the ideas that were carried through remain true to the original vision, the original IP, and for some players, everything that they love about Tokien's universe.

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