Entering Middle-Earth

Beta. A word just about every gamer loves to hear. For some, it means a chance to make the games they love a little better before the gold announcement; for others, a chance to test-drive the latest titles without having to pay for them. For me? Well, it was my first chance to enter the latest world sculpted by Turbine and, hopefully, squash some bugs along the way. Feeling a bit blasé with the genre, I wasn’t expecting too much. I was in for a surprise. Before going any further, it should be noted that the game is in a beta state, which means everything is subject to change and anything discussed here may not appear in the final release version.

Much like retail, the first step to entering any beta (okay, the second step, since the the first is gaining access) is to patch up. Normally, this is an anxious and often painstaking process, but not so with Lord of the Rings Online. “Slick,” is a word that comes to mind as you’re offered information about the patching process. You can check the latest news and updates, as well as see which servers are available, all while watching the individual file progress scroll by as a speedy pace. When inactive, it will hang out in your system tray, just waiting for you to slip into the world. Yeah, it’s silly, but I like the patcher. Now, on to the good stuff!

Getting into character

Ah, a welcome sight: the character creation screen. The first thing I noticed was a clean interface featuring my potential character dead-center, just waiting to become a hero. Or to die a few thousand painful deaths, anyway. In the background, there is a race-specific environment living and breathing. Bits of pollen waft by and leaves glide toward the earth. Similar to other games, you’re presented with a list of options for your race: the Race of Man, Dwarf, Hobbit, or Elf. I should note that the Dwarves are the only race lacking a female option. Sorry ladies, your fantasies of roleplaying the bearded woman will have to go unfulfilled, at least without the tedious hormone therapy. Feeling dainty and fleet of foot, I opted to go with an elf.

Next, unsurprisingly, came the class selection screen. Champion, Guardian, Hunter, Lore Master, and Minstrel were available as an Elf. Clearly, any self-respecting Tolkien fan would dive right into the lore of the world, so Lore Master it was. According to the description:

“The Lore Master is the seeker of knowledge and guardian of wisdom. He wields ancient secrets and lore to confound his enemies and aid his friends, protecting them against the dark powers of the Enemy.

Role: Crowd-Control/Pets

The Lore Master is the unparalleled master of crowd-control, the ability to trap creatures and keep them from hurting his allies. He has many skills that invoke the natural world of Middle-Earth but it is draining on the will, thus costing him morale to fuel some of these power skills. Because of this, he must rely on his pets to supplement his ability to take damage.”

Each class has a similar description, which is a nice way of letting you know what you’re getting into before you actually create the character. This well-thought addition would prove to be a fine example of many things done right in LotRO.

Having selected my race and class, it was time for the final phase: customization. Here you’ll find the standard options such as appearance, coloration, name, as well as Lord of the Rings-specific character origins. These origins are a way to be more specific as to the part of the world from which your character hails. For the Elf, options such as Rivendell and Lorien appear. More than mere text, they affect the color options available for your character and give an overall defining style to the model, which can be recognized as you encounter other players in-game. In other words, an Elf from Rivendell looks like an Elf from Rivendell. And if the appearance wasn’t enough to provide a clue, it also grants a title; more on those later.

Another interesting note is the name input box. I found myself presented with some of the linguistic rules (as well as quick- and easy-to-follow suggestions) for racial naming conventions based on Tolkien’s efforts. While you don’t necessarily have to follow them, it’s the first of many steps to make the game a bit more roleplay-friendly, as well as get you in the spirit of the fiction. Already having a character name in mind, I selected a suitable suffix, modified the name to fit, and proceeded to enter the game world.

In the next segment, we’ll take a look at getting into the game as well as how Turbine has approached instancing in Lords of the Rings Online. Stay tuned! Part two of our hands-on preview can be found here.

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