E3 2006: The RPGs

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The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar

Securing the license for a Dungeons & Dragons MMORPG was quite a feat for Turbine, but obtaining the rights to create one based in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth was nothing short of monumental. The development studio has been working on The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar for over three years now, and it finally appears that the team might be nearing the end of the tunnel. With beta signups now being accepted and a tentative release date being set for the end of this year, it won't be long before many of us are adventuring through Middle-Earth firsthand.

The demo began when Turbine executive producer Jeffrey Steefel loaded up a platemail-equipped Dwarven Guardian named Thorvald in the town of Bree, the same town where Frodo first met Aragorn/Strider during a visit to the Prancing Pony Inn. We watched as the Dwarf undertook a low-level quest for Strider to help a fellow Ranger named Andulin overcome a stabbing by a Ringwraith's blade. As you may recall from the books or movies, anyone stabbed by such a weapon begins a process of turning into a Ringwraith themselves. The quest ends without Andulin being saved, after which Jeffrey warps Thorvald to a higher level quest in which he actually has to do battle with the former Ranger who is now a red-robed initiate undertaking the final steps to become a full-fledged Ringwraith.

During these initial quests, Jeffrey pointed out that Shadows of Angmar fits within the timeline of the first book but will not actually place your character alongside the two hobbits headed to Mount Doom in Mordor. The book mentions fierce battles taking place across Middle-Earth during the hobbits' journey, and it is this war that your character will be participating in. Therefore, you will technically be aiding their cause in destroying the One Ring, but you will not be directly involved with it. As mentioned above, though, there will be times when you may participate in quests for other members of the Fellowship (Gandalf, Aragorn, and Gimli were all mentioned), but don't expect to lend Frodo a hand in killing the great spider Shelob. In fact, all of the game's content at launch will be located in the region of Eriador, which only includes those areas that the hobbits traveled through before entering Moria.

Jeffrey also told us that the game will have a level cap of 50 and that there will be some sort of consensual PvP, though they still haven't hammered out any specifics. It really doesn't make sense to have a full PvP system at launch, simply because only the four (good) races will be available for players to choose from. Other features currently planned for the game include mounts, crafting, kinship/guild housing, instanced dungeons (10% instanced, 90% open zone), and soloable content at all levels, though grouping is obviously encouraged for many of the game's more difficult quests.

Toward the end of the demonstration, Thorvald was brought to the home of Tom Bombadil, where the character received a quest ultimately leading him into the instanced Barrow-Wight dungeon to find the Witch-king. The final battle with the undead in this quest was unbeatable, though, until Tom himself showed up to lend a hand and then skip away singing after the creatures had all fallen. After his departure, the dungeon begins collapsing, opening deeper areas that can be accessed in future quests.

At the demo's conclusion, we were able to glean a few more tidbits of information out of Jeffrey with some properly placed questions. First, the game will be broken out into multiple (shard) servers rather than placing everyone on one central server. Secondly, there will be ways to instantly travel to and from major areas, though the players will miss out on merchants that have set up shop along the roads. These merchants will be a valuable asset for those players who don't want to return to town in order to buy needed supplies or sell excess equipment. Finally, as with Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach, we can expect to see regular content updates to Shadows of Angmar. Right now, the team is planning to release a major update every quarter.

This was the first time we've actually seen The Lord of the Rings Online firsthand, so it's difficult to gauge just how well the game will play or how easily it will warrant a monthly subscription fee. There doesn't appear to be anything holding the title back from certain success, though, considering the massive popularity of both the books and Peter Jackson's recently released movie trilogy. If all goes as planned, we should be adventuring in Middle-Earth by the holidays.