Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar has the unpleasant honor of entering into the MMO market where the shadow of World of Warcraft looms over all. From what we've seen and heard, the Turbine developed game is the first real contender to enter the market in a long time. It may not usher an immediate deathblow to WoW, but the fellowship of the ring has a long journey and they're ready to battle.
Joystiq spent some time at Turbine meeting with the team behind LotRO. One of the key things that stood out was the polish of the product and the fact that those we spoke to weren't being deceitful in their presentation of the game -- a rare occurrence to say the least. The team knows they've got something good on their hands.
"We couldn't wait to lift NDA," said Meghan Rodberg, community manager at Turbine. "We knew we had something special and different."
Lead Designer Nikolaus Davidson says the team wasn't being naive on this project. They know they aren't entering a fresh market where the last big game is forgotten. MMOs live a long time and there is a dominating force in the genre. Turbine had to develop LotRO to enter and compete with the two-year-old World of Warcraft. Offering gamers something different, yet accessible, and having some innovations not seen in WoW.
The basic things setting LotRO: Shadows of Angmar, which takes place over the course of The Fellowship of the Ring, apart from the rest of the competition is well implemented layered instances, a deed system, titles and Turbine's track record of quickly expanding content. Layered instances progress the plot of the story and while completing quests the environment may change. NPCs die, houses burn and the story moves on. This first game covers events and subplots that may not have been explored in Tolkien's first book, allowing players to explore the random sub-plots Tolkien glanced over. The deed system acts as achievements. For example, while exploring you may be told you've completed one of five portions of a deed. This encourages exploration and will keep achievement junkies craving for more. Titles like "The Road Watcher," are acquired by completing tasks or deeds and titles can always change to whatever the player wants.
Although Turbine's last game, Dungeons & Dragons Online, did not involve the same development team, that game does hang over the company. Davidson says the LotRO team learned plenty of lessons from DDO and that they are completely different games. He also notes that DDO is entirely different now than when it launched and that speaks to Turbines ability to take feedback and implement new content effectively. He says they will be just as effective in fixing any LotRO issues. When asked how he would react to someone saying that Turbine made DDO and that game was awful, so LotRO will also be awful, Davidson responds, "In DDO we made a game around rules, with Lord of the Rings we made rules around a game."
LotRO was "finished" a while back and the team is spending more of their time on polish and implementing random things for the community before launch April 24. Players can re-dye their clothes for the fashionista gamers, different types of smoking weed will create different smoke rings, but what they are most proud of is the music system. The music system, which currently has no quests attached to it, has been strongly embraced by the community. When players hit a certain level they can receive an instrument to play using their keyboard. Davidson says these are the types of things they could do because they weren't just finishing the game at the last second, they were adding content to make the world lively and a service to Tolkien fans and gamers.
We'll continue to follow the development of LotRO. Along with Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning by EA Mythic this fall, it look like there might finally be some competition in the MMO market.