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Dana Massey Posted:
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Lord of the Rings Online: PAX Preview

The star of the Turbine Entertainment booth at PAX was Lord of the Rings Online. In taking on this second massive license, Turbine has a mighty weight on its shoulders and expectations to live up to.

“This is an MMO for people who love MMOs,” explained Lead Systems Designer Nik Davidson. He made special note of how the game had not tried to “reinvent the wheel” when it came to things like interface, controls and basic mechanism. Lord of the Rings Online will not have change for change’s sake.

That said, there were two fundamental aspects of MMORPGs that Davidson felt their game had to get away from. The first was empty quests. They made it a goal to make every quest and task mean something. Given their IP, this seems like a relatively straightforward task. Although, in the demo, he did have his elf deliver the mail.

The second assumption was the idea of “end-game assumptions”. Turbine doesn’t pretend that everyone wants to reach some mythical conclusion and do the same thing. As such, they’ve created a variety of end-games for players to enjoy. These range from crafting, to single group content, to PvP, to raid content.

The concept of Accomplishments is a neat innovation among MMORPGs. These are goals given to each character means to be achieved while you play. In exchange, players earn titles and traits. While titles are self-explanatory, traits are innate abilities (or buffs) each character equips into a finite number of slots. Players can swap them out, for a price, over time if they choose. Accomplishments are often “exploration based achievements”. They can be as simple as finding a certain famous place or as easy as using one of your skills X number of times. These are rewards for playing, not rewards people must grind to earn.

PAX also served as a forum for Davidson to really talk about their PvP solution. He was fond of saying that Lord of the Rings was not about a world where an Elf could just shoot a Hobbit in the back of the head. Despite this, they felt PvP was important and found their solution in “Monster Play”.

There are areas of the world for players to explore in multiple forms. There, anyone can simply become a goblin or some other low level creature and attack real players as they go by. This kind of play is completely separate from your regular character and has a form of advancement on its own. As more players are killed, the player earns points that they can spend on buying some play time on a more advanced monster or – more tantalizingly – upgrade their persistent character.

Whenever someone makes an MMORPG, there are certain expectations in terms of baseline features from the community. Given the size of the genre today, Davidson doesn’t believe any single game can hope to have every single one at launch and should instead concentrate on doing those they have well. Two such features are housing and mounts. Davidson told us that there are plans for guild housing – although could not yet say when – and free-form mounts are not in their launch plans, but definitely something that needs to be done when they get to Rohan. The game itself will expand chronologically.

For crafters, there are ten distinct tradeskills that come grouped into thematic bundles of three. These skill classes – so to speak – have a clearly defined primary, secondary and tertiary ability and are raised in that relation.

Currently, Davidson described character advancement in Lord of the Rings Online as “on the casual side”, but notes that this may change before launch. He added that Lord of the Rings would be a “deeper MMO” than most major competitors.

As Turbine closes in on the launch of their fourth major MMORPG, more than most other companies, we wanted to know where they saw Lord of the Rings once it hit the market. Davidson gave us a definitive answer.

“This can be the next big MMO,” he told us.

“This is Lord of the freaking Rings,” he added with a wry grin.

The title is currently in Alpha and should be available in the spring of 2007.

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Dana Massey