3/26/07 - Latest News
Gaming Haven Latest News

LOTRO ready to launch itself into MMO fray
Xoanon @ 5:48 pm EST

MrCere writes: BOSTON – There is a war brewing, the forces many times larger than those gathered at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. The lines have been drawn, great resources have been allocated and very soon the trumpets will sound as two giant armies will clash. One of the principal generals in the upcoming clash is Turbine Entertainment’s CEO Jeff Anderson who took time to give the complete lowdown of his company’s entry into Middle-earth to TheOneRing.net.

The battle isn’t set in Middle-earth but it is Middle-earth that is going to war. In a realm of gaming that is currently ruled by “World of Warcraft” (WoW) many eyes are on Turbine’s “The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar” as the game that can go toe-to-toe with the giant cave troll (riding a mumukil) of the genre.

“It is the kind of product that can support an epic launch,” Anderson said of his game only weeks before it hits shelves worldwide. Anderson and his team have some solid reasons to be optimistic because there is considerable momentum behind the company’s efforts. Over 500,000 were involved in the BETA version of the game and 1.5 million posts have been made in the Turbine forums. By all accounts the BETA testing went relatively smoothly and the game is already strong on polish.

The company is confident enough that it is allowing virtually everybody interested to try the game for free starting on March 30. (Details are forthcoming but keep your eyes on this space to see how you, dear TORn reader, can explore the game and see if this version of Middle-earth is your cup of tea.)

The “real” launch is set for April 24 but with characters from the free trial carrying over (capped at level 15) to the hard launch date, the real game will be in player’s hands before that. The launch will be in North America, Europe, Oceana and China with other territories on the “to expand to” list. Indeed Anderson had just returned from a quick trip in Europe (10 cities in 10 days) where he was promoting the game and meeting with press.

For those unfamiliar with MMO (Massive Multi-player On-line) games, the idea is that players create a character or characters that get to move around a fantasy realm and interact with other players and computer-controlled characters in real time. The game isn’t limited to a linear storyline but rewards exploration and completion of tasks. Characters gain experience and attributes as they complete quests, missions and things and then customize their avatars further as a wider range of possibilities opened with level progression. The formula can be tweaked to emphasize different aspects of the experience but the basic premise is fairly entrenched across the MMO board.

It was J.R.R. Tolkien who helped popularize the idea of gigantic battles between species in his “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” “The Hobbit’s” battle of five armies pitted Elves, Dwarves and Men against Goblins and Wolves in what was only a tiny preview of the massive tilts that took place in the more adult sequel. It might seem fitting then that it is Tolkien’s Middle-earth, as licensed through Tolkien Enterprises, which is viewed as a title that can be taken to war against WoW, currently boasting 8.5 million on-line subscribers.

With years of development and a closed BETA behind it, Turbine is about to open the floodgates with its open BETA (or a soft launch if you prefer) and “founders program” and in battle language, unleash hell in the marketplace against WoW and developer Blizzard. Like most MMOs, a monthly subscription is required to enjoy the game in addition to the software purchase paid up front. The founder’s program offers subscriptions to North American patrons for $9.99 a month instead of the usual $15 or about 33 cents a day instead of 50. The other option is a lifetime membership for $199. This makes financial sense if a player knows he will play longer than 20 months. Some may pay this cost with the idea of eventually getting to play territories like Moria, Lothlorien or perhaps even Mordor or the eastern boundaries of Tolkien’s own map.

The stage is set, the pieces are moving and Turbine seems pretty comfortable. Why? Because of a long development time in which to polish the game and the fact that ultimately the game can offer something no other MMO before has been able to do: to transport players to Middle-earth.

“The magnitude of the world needs to feel epic,” said Anderson. “We are doing what Tolkien did. We are opening Middle-earth in chapters.”

The player chooses any of the four races most prevalent of Middle-earth (Hobbit, Elf, Dwarf and Man) will start the game in roughly what is called Eriador or the regions familiar to readers of “Fellowship of the Ring.”

It features over 50 million square meters of territory in Middle-earth to adventure in with 100 regions, 400 points of interest, 2000 non-player characters (computer scripted), 1,500 quests in addition to ‘exceptional’ characters lifted directly from Tolkien’s pages so that players can find out what Bill Furney was really doing. Players can and are encouraged by game play to join a fellowship (a group of up to six players that work together) but not The Fellowship as playing those characters are forbidden. Such players can be encountered however.

For example, early in the Dwarf introduction phase of the game a player’s character has the chance to stand chest-to-chest with Gandalf, Glóin, and soon after, one of the sons of Elrond. For Tolkien enthusiasts it is these little encounters with the principal figures in the War of the Ring that will make Middle-earth feel familiar and somewhere to visit repeatedly without stomping on the mythology - Turbine hopes.

“We use cinematics to tell the story of ‘The Fellowship’ without the players mucking it up,” Anderson said.

If Turbine succeeds in its goal to make those familiar with Middle-earth feel at home in the game and keep long-time gamers excited about play, it could convert large numbers to its cause. If that happens, Turbine will have the freedom and ability to expand the current confines of Tolkien’s imagined world and that has Lead Game System’s Designer Nikolaus Davidson almost giddy.

“We do live content (expansions and new game features in periodic updates) better than anybody in the business – bar none – I can say that with certainty. And when that story is ‘Lord of the Rings,’ well, get ready,” he said during TORn’s visit to Turbine.

It is safe to say, explorers of Middle-earth are.

TheOneRing.net will be looking deeper into the game all week in the days leading to the open BETA on Friday.

NEXT: The social aspects of a virtual Middle-earth

COMING: The bad guys and player vs. player

COMING: The game reviewed (so far)

COMING: Customizing characters and game play