By Kim Mitchell
Based on the books by J.R.R. Tolkien, LOTRO lets you live inside his famous fantasy world and travel to all the notorious places like Weathertop, Rivendell, The Shire, Rohan and many more. Mingle with hobbits, dwarves and elves in a richly detailed setting, and complete quests on your own and with online fellowships.
With a fairly detailed tutorial you are guided through the very beginnings of the story. A lot of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) begin on a “newbie” island, and LOTRO is the same with an introductory sequence of quests to help you get the hang of the controls, inventory and combat. For newer MMORPG players this is a great way to get your feet wet before meeting others on your journey.
You can choose to adventure as a man, elf, dwarf or hobbit. Based on your choice of race, you can pick one of seven classes: Guardian, Champion, Captain, Burglar, Hunter, Lore-Master or Minstrel. As you level up in the game, you can further individualize your character with traits, hobbies and deeds. I chose a man Burglar and an elven Hunter.
There are quests-a-plenty in this game. The variety ranges from whacking ten wolves and gathering their pelts, picking herbs, escorting someone to safety, protecting a farm under siege…the list goes on and on. Many of the quests have multiple steps and lengthy story lines, and the main epic is divided into books that will almost always require a fellowship to complete. With each epic quest completed, there is usually a short cinematic sequence further detailing the story.
The “deed” system presents a different aspect to advancing your character. When deeds are completed, the player gets rewarded with new titles to show off and traits and virtues to enhance your abilities. Deeds don’t really qualify as full-fledged quests but are discovered just by playing the game. You can initiate a deed just by killing a goblin. Kill a certain number of goblins and you will earn the title Goblin Slayer. Do enough quests for your hometown and earn the title of Defender or Guardian of your city. Numerous titles can be earned and changed at anytime.
As you move up the ranks, finding a fellowship will become more important. Soloing is feasible, but you may not have the best gear in the game and you will miss out on the epic storyline. Turbine made sure that there were plenty of things to do besides just hunting monsters and leveling. You can craft, have Player versus Player (PvP) matches, play musical instruments, or take up a hobby.
Besides completing quests there is another interesting aspect to being in a fellowship called “Fellowship Maneuvers” or “Conjunctions”. In order to take advantage of these special abilities you must be at least level twelve. Burglars are the main initiators of these maneuvers and at times Guardians can also start the process. When the maneuvers are triggered in combat, a skill wheel appears on the screen with color coordinated symbols. Red, green, yellow and blue all signify different types of attacks, healing actions and “damage over time” (DOT) moves that work according to the maneuver level. The idea is for your fellowship to coordinate and cooperate together and choose the same colors, pairs of colors or the best combination at the most useful times. If everyone needs to be healed then you should choose green. If you need a large amount of damage done to your enemy, then perhaps red or blue is your answer. Working together can amass great damage, healing powers and other useful effects in combat to help bring down your enemies.
A very unique opportunity arises to a player that reaches level ten. You can now start Monster Play. Monster Play opens up a whole new world named Ettenmoors which is designated for PvP. You choose a level fifty monster of your liking from hulking orcs, to agile wolves and poisonous spiders. There are quests to complete, skills to learn, gear to acquire, raids to join and ranks to gain. The heart of the PvP area is maintaining control of Towers and Keeps and of course defeating the enemy. PvP is completely consensual and is not required in the game.
A nice touch was that Turbine made sure everyone could get a home of their very own. You have a choice of standard houses, deluxe homes and if you’re in a kinship (guild) with a high rank there are mansions to be bought. Houses start at one gold with weekly upkeep. Most players enjoy having a place to call their own and show off their trophies.
With vast landscapes and high details the game shines in all graphical aspects. Turbine left no stone unturned when adding the finishing touches to armor and architectural details. Flocks of birds in flight, active fauna populations and swaying flowers on rolling hills immerse the player in a sea of eye candy.
The game ran nearly perfectly on my iZ3D monitor with the 1.08 iZ3D stereo drivers in its native 1680 X 1050 resolution. You can expect very playable rates on an AMD 3870 and NVIDIA 8800 series GPUs or better using very high detail settings under Windows XP and Vista. Ultra high settings are only available to those that are using Vista and DirectX 10, but the iZ3D stereoscopic 3D drivers don’t support this mode yet.
From a stereoscopic 3D perspective, getting the correct separation and convergence balance is tricky because the environment and your character seem to be rendered inconsistently from each other. For example, you can have a branch pop out of your screen when your character should be the first to penetrate the glass. This is exemplified below with the fence breaching the monitor screen before your character. Note to Turbine Games: be consistent with your rendering!
Until the drivers are corrected there are two additional anomalies to contend with:
First, when post processing is activated, the screen has an occasional flicker, and the part of the HUD that shows your face can double inappropriately. Turn the post processing off, and everything looks perfect - but you lose most of the effects that make the world extra beautiful and realistic looking. My recommendation is to keep this on in exchange for the minor visual anomalies.
Second, in the left eye, the trees will be doubled, while in the right eye, everything will be proper. Change “Material Detail” to “LOW” in the advanced graphics options to resolve this. This problem may disappear when post processing is turned off, but I think it’s better to change this setting and keep the post processing effects on.
Post processing on and off - see the difference?
First person perspective was much better because the avatar is not shown and you can adjust the S-3D settings to better suit your eyes. I was able to get a decent amount of pop-out and depth effects. The elven towns near Falathlorn were very pleasing to the eye in stereo 3D. Buildings looked whimsical as their fine details could be seen.
The only downfall I can see is that most people play these types of games in third person perspective. With 1680 X 1050 resolution, I recommend a separation setting of 17.01% and a convergence of 0.3891 which you can adjust and see in the iZ3D on-screen display when making adjustments. You will get a balance of depth and pop-out, but still not as dynamic as the first person experience.
In summary, you don’t have to be familiar with the Lord of the Rings lore to enjoy this game. The beauty is in how you play the game. The wide open world is waiting to submerse you into a comprehensive storyline. Perhaps you’ll take the same path as Frodo and his friends and see the world through stereoscopic 3D eyes!
MTBS Amendment: Lord of the Rings Online does not work with the modern NVIDIA driver solution at this time. This review will be updated when compatibility is confirmed. iZ3D has also been informed of the visual anomalies found in this review, and efforts are being made to resolve them.
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