Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar
follows a similar gameplay model as other MMOs. You begin with a selection of four race choices, each with their own benefits and drawbacks, after which you select from various classes, all filling important party roles like tank, healer and crowd control. Once you have your character, you then set out on a series of quests, all taking place in Middle-earth. Along the way, you may even run into a few notable characters from both The Lord of the Rings
trilogy and The Hobbit
While at first glance, it may not look like it does much to differ from other MMOs on the market, Lord of the Rings Online mixes up the traditional formula, giving the game a different feel. The first few missions are set up as a story-based tutorial that really gives you a feel for how to play. After that, you begin on a story-driven main quest that indirectly ties into the book's plot.
Calling on the game's literary origins, storytelling plays a major role in Lord of the Rings Online. Each race begins in a story-driven tutorial that makes sense for that race. For example, dwarves and elves begin in the same starting area where the city of Edhelion has been destroyed by a group of renegade dwarves called the Dourhands. As you play though the area, many of the missions involve building trust between the two races. Not every quest ties into the story, though there are enough that you don't always feel like someone's errand boy.
Eventually, the story ties in with the book's narrative, taking you through quests that run alongside events in the book as well as exploring other related lore that may only be hinted at in the books. The current chapters focus on Nazgul and the forces invading Angmar. While you never directly participate in major events, your actions do have an impact on the Fellowship's quest.
Lord of the Rings Online does a great job at always keeping you moving. There is always some new quest you can take on that will generally reward you with something useful. Quests are standard and, like WoW, really just disguised "experience grinds." The payoff for completing quests is eventually coming across characters from the books and fulfilling prerequisites for the game's fellowship system.
Up to six players can form a group, or fellowship, and tackle the game's more challenging areas. These include instanced dugeons like the Barrow-Downs and Carn Dum and are where you'll find most of the game's high-end loot and enemies. Playing with a fellowship goes a little further than having a group of players to fill roles in battle. While grouped, you have access to special group attacks that are triggered by players pulling off attacks in a specific order. How often and well these attacks work is mostly dependant on how well your party is organized and communicates.
Another feature worth mentioning is the player-created music system. Once you character reaches level five, you can purchase a music skill for your character that allows you to use the number keys to make your own songs. Although the music has no in-game effect, it has really taken off and become one of the more popular aspects of the game. It is not uncommon to walk through and hear in-game renditions of popular songs.
Lord of the Rings Online's PvP feature is another interesting element. At level 10, your character can look in a Scrying Pool and enter the body of one of Sauron's minions. Battles take place in an area known as the Ettenmoors, an area where high-level characters can enter and fight player-controlled monsters. The great thing about the system is that it gives the opportunity to those who like PvP without forcing it on people. It also protects character builds since you never have to make sacrifices for PvP. There's also no risk involved in the system, so if you are curious, you can try it without putting your character at risk. The game is still young, so the Ettenmoors aren't as active, though they should pick up as more players reach higher levels.