Dark or Light

E3 2005 Impressions

Dana Massey Posted:
Previews 0

From E3 – Wednesday May 26th, 2005

Lord of the Rings Online – the holy grail franchise for RPG gamers all over the world is going massive and Turbine Entertainment showed it off for the first time since the name change (from Middle Earth Online) at E3 2005. The focus was squarely on D&D Online, which we previewed yesterday, but from what we saw of Lord of the Rings Online it looks like it will be the flagship product for Turbine once it launches in 2006. Visually, thematically, and what little game play we did learn all left this game poised to pounce as a potential game of the show candidate in one year’s time.

Superficially, Lord of the Rings Online looks a bit like Dungeons & Dragons Online, except better. It moved and animated beautifully, and the slightly cartoonish feel felt like perfect for a representation of the books. Little touches, like the character leaning a little bit as he lugged a bucket of water to a fire, really made the game feel real. Turbine makes beautiful games and this one is the most beautiful of them all.

Unlike their other major product in production, Lord of the Rings Online has moved towards a more traditional sever model that players of games like Dark Age of Camelot and World of WarCraft should find familiar. The game also features instanced content, but again in opposition to D&DO the game is actually more geared towards open areas. The team promises that 70 to 80% of gameplay will be in public areas. What parts are instanced are done so only to further the story and do things that were not otherwise possible without an instanced encounter.

The best example of how they will use instancing is the tutorial. The humans start a picturesque little town that is being plagued by bandits. This is an instance for new players. As you take the quest to solve the flaw, you leave town and sneak into another more personalized instance for you and your friends. While out and about, your travels take you around and eventually back to the city. This time it is on fire and under attack. In the demo, they had to beat the bandits, and actually put out the fire by using a bucket to throw water on the fire. Once this quest is complete, you enter the “real world” where the charred remains of the town are on display for all to see. This is how the use instancing to tell heroic stories and maintain consistency in the game world.

The game features four races: elves, humans, hobbits and dwarves, and takes place at the time of the first book. Along with these races are seven classes, the details of which are not yet fully revealed. That said, they did say you could expect to see a ranger, thief and a few different melee classes.

One point that was emphasized is that Tolkien made it very clear that there were only a select few wizards. Lord of the Rings Online will not let everyone be Gandalf. What limited magical tricks can be learned will be very small in nature. There will be no Wizard class and no ability to chuck fireballs at your enemies on a whim. This absence of magic really takes the game in a different direction than other MMOs and could change the dynamics of group and class relationships quite a bit. These dynamics have been given a great deal of thought by the development team. They want to make a game where everyone can contribute to a party and there is no need to turn down someone for your group because you need a “tank” or some other preferably combination. At the same time, they also want the entire game to be open to the solo player. After all, what is more fitting than the solo ranger?

Visually the world looked nice, but it also felt real as well. They have taken great care to ensure players do not just walk into areas and find monsters milling around waiting to be killed. Spiders would drop from trees and try to snare you in their webs. Another neat trick was that as they followed the path of the bandits in the tutorial through a spider valley, they often came around corners and saw spiders killing bandits. It left the chance feeling breathless and let you know you were hot on their heels. This kind of change seems superficial, but it makes the world feel more like a world and less like a theme park.

Players often worry about how the team will handle major characters from the books in such a sacred franchise. We were told that the characters would be around and part of various quests players undertake. A previous design was that players would always have “just missed” the fellowship as they traveled. This is gone in favor of a system where you will find people, like say Strider, in a position he was in the book, such as waiting for the hobbits at an inn. There he will send you unto a quest or help you through one, and you will move on.

The game uses the book license and not those of the movies. Do not expect to see Liv Tyler and other Hollywood celebrity faces on the characters. This license provides the team with more freedom. Tolkien took years to craft his world and the story of the game can have players explore other parts of that universe that would not be allowed in a movie license game. For example, the subtitle of the game is the “Shadows of Angmar”. Angmar was hardly a major part of the trilogy, but becomes a primary concern of the story in this online RPG.

It is far too early to tell how Lord of the Rings Online will shape up, but Turbine has a reputation for solid, fun and beautiful games. This one does not appear to be any different. If they keep on their current course, this is one title fans will be raving about in a year’s time!

Please, leave us your thoughts on this article in our comments thread.


Dana Massey