Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows Of Angmar

Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

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If new MMORPGs were baby seals emerging from shelter and into the sunlight for the first time, World of Warcraft would be the hunter clubbing them as they took their first tentative sniff. On a planet where the Star Wars license could fail to gain a large audience, it's easy to imagine that Lord of the Rings could crash before it ever got off the ground. Sierra's first attempt certainly did; Middle Earth Online promised permanent death and other risky features before getting the axe in back in 1999.

Turbine, the developer of Lord of the Rings Online, has a turbulent history of its own. After the moderate success of the Microsoft-published Asheron's Call was followed with a failed sequel, Microsoft cut Turbine loose. Left to their own devices, Turbine launched D&D Online and turned out a solid, if forgettable, group-focused MMORPG based in the Ebberon universe. Some gamers in the Turbine forums complain that the company diverted too many resources to the development of LOTRO, leaving D&D Online under-supported. Maybe that's true; Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows Of Angmar has obviously been given a lot of love and attention. It surprises with interesting, well written quests and an affection for the mythos created by Tolkien.

It's important to note that LOTRO is based on the book license and Turbine's own ideas rather than those found in the Peter Jackson movies, meaning that Strider will not look like the Viggo Mortensen we saw on the big screen. Turbine has gone with a more classical rendition of the world and its characters, giving them a less gritty, more jovial feel. That's not to say the mood cannot be downright sinister at times, the dark riders themselves are just as shrouded in darkness and evil as you might expect.

When you create your avatar, you can choose from Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits and Men. Each have their own choice of origin, which affects their looks slightly but does not have much impact on your place in the world. Every race starts in a pre-determined area, regardless of what you may choose. Among the usual archetypes we find two slightly different classes. Champions are all about quick melee damage and a few area of effect moves, dual wielding anything they can get their hands on right from level one. Captains act as the jack of all trades, offering both group benefits and some minor healing to go along with combat skills. The "pet" that can accompany the Captain is a man who follows him around holding a banner and lending his blade to the fight. If he clopped together two coconut halves and sang songs of false praise instead, it would make the lack of real mounts more funny than disappointing.

When you enter the game you get a quick taste of the kind of story instances you can expect throughout the "Epic" quest line. As an Elf, you begin hundreds of years in the past, defending a small Elvish outpost against an army made up of greedy Dwarves and Trolls. As you finish the instance and complete the tutorial (which ends with Elrond himself taking down a Troll and saving your butt), you load into the main world where other players reside. It's hundreds of years after the events you just experienced and you start in the same area, which has since become decrepit and old, with vines overgrowing the buildings and cracks in the stonework. It may not sound like much, but for a Lord of the Rings fan, it satisfies a deep, dorky urge to experience more directly the world Tolkien made. Each race gets their own starting instance and a different peek into the history of Middle Earth and the beginning of Frodo and Bilbo's journey.

Unlike D&D Online, there is a non-instanced world to explore filled with interesting quests, strong writing and familiar places to discover. Because Turbine had such a rich and well-established context to work with, they can make some of the more mundane "kill 10 boars" quests more interesting and entertaining for the player. Playing Vanguard I realize how important this is as a player, killing crows on behalf of "Kehlaral" from "Quart'olzek" isn't nearly as compelling as killing crows on behalf of Strider because he fears they're spying on his four mysterious charges, trying to locate the ring. Since I already care of these characters and this world, half their job is done for them. Obviously, if you're not into Lord of the Rings or detest the genre, this isn't going to do anything to change your mind.


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The graphics engine seems to be the same used for D&D Online, only more refined and expansive. It looks wonderful and runs incredibly well, scaling right up to all kinds of bells and whistles high-end system owners will appreciate, while remaining accessible for players with slower systems. I wouldn't say the game is quite at Oblivion levels of detail, but given the genre and expanse to explore, it's a near thing in some spots. Sadly, the character models and faces are lacking in both customization options and originality so far. The world of Middle Earth is a classic fantasy setting, but the characters feel watered down compared to some of the excellent art done for the books and the movies.

One major gripe I have so far is how ugly most of the armor and clothing is. Even at high levels players are walking around in garish, clashing cloaks and bright blue pants coupled with bright red tops. No one looks all that cool, even in heavy armor. More readily available dye for armor and more class-specific sets would go a long way toward improving things. I have yet to see a set of armor I think looks like something a normal person would be caught dead wearing in Bree. Dwarves seem to have the best outfits, fitting into the world without looking like they just stumbled out of a disaster at a primary paints factory.

The bland armor is made worse by the fact that everyone is wearing practically the same thing. The light armor doesn't look much different than the medium, leaving very few distinctions between classes and races. With just seven classes and four races to choose from, the game is teetering on the edge of not having enough variety to appease hardcore players looking for more depth and customization. At a glance, a Minstrel, Champion or Hunter don't look at that different, even at later levels.

Quests are where the game really shines. It may be the most quest-heavy game on the market at launch, leaving players with plenty of solo and group quests to choose from. The Epic Quest line is where the meat of the story is, giving you a story arc that runs along side the journey of the One Ring to Mordor. You obviously won't be the one saving the world, but they do a good job of telling the rest of the story while Frodo and the Fellowship are off trying to get the job done.

There is a growing segment of gamers like myself who are burned out on the genre, but always interested in seeing what the next game is bringing to the table. LOTRO is giving me enough story and short, fun, scripted instances sprinkled among the usual questing that I don't notice much grinding. Even the urge to level up is trumped by the desire to push the story along, making the experience you gather less of a focus and more incidental.

There's still lots to talk about in regards to crafting, which offers the usual sword and armor creation along with more unique approaches like he path of a Historian, gleaning information from old tablets and creating scrolls to help your party. Fellowship conjunctions also add a layer to group play, giving everyone a chance to chain special class skills together in the middle of combat. We'll explore those aspects and the monster play PVP system as the game gets closer to release.

Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows Of Angmar does not redefine the genre, but it raises the bar for what we should expect from MMORPG storytelling. If you love Tolkien, and you don't mind that Strider is in Bree a little longer than he should be, I recommend getting your hands on the open beta and giving it a chance. Sometimes a game just needs to do a lot of things well, and a few things exceptionally. Story is king in Tolkien's world, and that's where the hook in Shadows of Angmar lies.

- Shawn "Certis" Andrich


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Comments

I liked the feel of the game, but I just couldn't get over the fact that I have to skip straight to level 20. I mean, can't I work for it?

jmdanny wrote:
I liked the feel of the game, but I just couldn't get over the fact that I have to skip straight to level 20. I mean, can't I work for it?

Buh? Did they accelerate you or something? Everyone starts at level 1, in Beta 2 anyways.

I haven't played beta 2 yet, but every character I made skipped straight to 20 when the tutorial was finished.

Man, you're old school. That's long gone.

Thank the gods... I'm downloading the client... again.

I've managed to spend a few hours in the european closed beta, and so far I'd have to say your assessment is right on, Certis. Turbine is walking a fine line between Tolkien lore, WoW-like expectations, new MMO players and seasoned MMO veterans.

Reading your first impressions made me realize how my first MMO experience with WoW really molded my expectations of a fantasy online experience. Namely, I don't think I read the quest giver's text for more than 2 or 3 quests from levels 1-9 in LOTRO. I just clicked "accept" over and over again, went out and killed/talked/looted, and came back to turn them in. Granted, I was in a hurry to experience as much of the game that I could, but still. I'm so used to ignoring the story in order to get to the "phat lootz" or keep up with my friends that I didn't know why I was doing any of it most of the time.

The game seems to be coming along nicely, though, and it's encouraging that it's at such a polished state this far in advance of the release. And all the developer comments I have come across point to the fundamental philosophy that expanding content and adding features will be more often than a yearly thing. Although if it took them this long with the landmass they're rolling out at start, I can't imagine how long Rohan, Gondor or Mordor are going to take. The lore adds weight to the story but in my mind it may also weigh down the development process and time-frame.

Everything Certis wrote is correct, and you all know how I hate agreeing with Certis.

Now let me get my hands on that beta. I love me some free MMO play, and this sounds very good.

Let's see...

* Pretty grass
* Ugly player and equipment models
* 100% generic RPG (read: WoW) template
* Formerly madlibs-generated generic names in quests are replaced with references to Tolkien, which makes them somehow meaningful.

IMO Warhammer MMO will be the next step in the MMORPG genre. Every MMORPG coming out between WoW and Warhammer is too indecisive and meek in its attempts to introduce new and interesting things. WoW took the formula that was already tired by the time it came out, and it refined it. Nobody else can get away with it at this point without having an innovative edge (such as lack of a subscription fee - Guild Wars I am looking at you).

Please descibe the PvP.

Shihonage --

While it's tough to disagree with you, I guess I'd say this: if you hate WoW, you aren't going to wet your pants over LOTRO unless you're a ig LOTR fan to start with. But if you actually enjoy(ed) WoW I feel like LOTRO does WoW with better pretty, better writing, more story, and a bunch of cool stuff to go with it.

I had zero interest in LOTRO until I read this and saw the screenshots. As someone who's burned out on WoW and really wishes that DDO could have "worked", this is suddenly interesting.

shihonage wrote:
Let's see...

* Pretty grass
* Ugly player and equipment models
* 100% generic RPG (read: WoW) template
* Formerly madlibs-generated generic names in quests are replaced with references to Tolkien, which makes them somehow meaningful.

IMO Warhammer MMO will be the next step in the MMORPG genre. Every MMORPG coming out between WoW and Warhammer is too indecisive and meek in its attempts to introduce new and interesting things. WoW took the formula that was already tired by the time it came out, and it refined it. Nobody else can get away with it at this point without having an innovative edge (such as lack of a subscription fee - Guild Wars I am looking at you).

I can't point to anything that I disagree with, Shiho, except that there IS innovation in LOTRO, just not in the most obvious or pertinent areas for many players. The "deeds/traits/accomplishments" seem new to me, although I haven't played WoW or Guild Wars in a very long time so they may not be. The monster pvp is a new take on pvp, however well it turns out to work. I haven't tried it yet. The crafting seems much more satisfying than most other games as well. Player housing and guild houses are in the works, although won't be ready for launch (maybe Everquest does this, but I've never played it). Each avatar will have a weblog and be accessible outside of the game client, a la BF2.

Turbine just hasn't done anything innovative with the core game play of a fantasy MMO, which lends it an automatic feeling of "been there done that" to anyone who has spent time in other games already. They justify this by saying that they wanted "accessibility" to all players, and wanted folks to easily slip into the game without a large learning curve.

The problem for me and I suspect many others, is that I've played hundreds of hours of that same system already, so I actually appreciate things when they're more complex or difficult to get into, or there is some re-learning involved. Needless to say LOTRO won't be for everyone. The jury is still out for me. I'm mostly happy in my spaceships right now.

shihonchic, could you post a link to a good write-up for Warhammer Online? I really have no idea what it's supposed to be like, other than looking like it copies the game that copied it in the first place.

Yeah, this has caught my eye. I will try to sample it when given the chance.

I thought the Founder payment options were pretty intersting. A "lifetime membership" option is not such a bad idea if you're really into the game.

I love Lord of the Rings more than just about anyone I know, so if there was ever a license that could get me to try an MMO, this would be it. Given this, I sincerely hope they flesh out some of the issues you've mentioned before the final release -- after all, if I am going to play an MMO, it's going to have to be a good one. Also, the license deserves to be done proper justice by every game, but even moreso in a genre that essentially owes it's most common mythos to the ideas that LotR created in the first place.

Based on some of the interviews and posts they've done (and certainly what they've done in the past) I imagine these guys will keep cranking out revisions and content. They've acknowledged the "sameness" issue re: classes/armor/races and seem to imply its changing rapidly. There's still two months before release, and I will say it's easily the most polished beta I've been part of this far from launch. I think they are perhaps calling the last month "Open Beta" when in fact its what most games would call the launch -- they'll be having a lot of paying players in the mix.

I'm just getting started with this one but so far I am liking it a lot. Just as everyone seems to state, it doesn't do anything radically different, but if it does what it does well enough, it doesn't need to. Granted, you had to enjoy DAOC, EQ, WOW, etc on some level to enjoy this.

One complaint I have is that I am having some rather annoying graphical glitches. I'm working through them one by one and am pretty confident that i'll get them sorted out, but don't expect flawless performance without some tweaking. (I'm not talking about the normal performance adjustments you have to make with every game, I'm talking about editing .ini files and adjusting settings you shouldn't even know exist.)

All in all, I will definitely preorder and go with the 9.99/month plan. The $199 lifetime sub would take a good bit more convincing or a very committed GWJ playerbase for me to consider.

Is it safe to say that this game has changed a lot since the early beta? I played in the first round of beta invites and I have to say it seemed extremely generic and dull, with poor performance. Has it come a long way since then?

hubbinsd wrote:
Is it safe to say that this game has changed a lot since the early beta? I played in the first round of beta invites and I have to say it seemed extremely generic and dull, with poor performance. Has it come a long way since then?

Based on posts from folks in the beta forums who have been testing a long time, I would say so. You'd kind of need to decide for yourself, I suppose.

Certis wrote:
hubbinsd wrote:
Is it safe to say that this game has changed a lot since the early beta? I played in the first round of beta invites and I have to say it seemed extremely generic and dull, with poor performance. Has it come a long way since then?

Based on posts from folks in the beta forums who have been testing a long time, I would say so. You'd kind of need to decide for yourself, I suppose.

The change between Beta 1 which ended just a few weeks (a month?) ago and Beta 2 was immense, and I though Beta 1 was was pretty polished.

Sameness is a concern, which might be lessened if dyes were more readily accessible, they are crafted items and as such dyes tend to remain in the larger guilds which can manage the interconnected nature of crafting.

jmdanny wrote:
I liked the feel of the game, but I just couldn't get over the fact that I have to skip straight to level 20. I mean, can't I work for it?
I am pretty sure the Skip to 20 option in the beginning tutorial was just that an option, though it might have been easy to click yes into accepting it. Some players in Beta 2 have the option to skip to 20 as well, but this time you need to finish the instance quest which the lowbie zone gives you at level 5/6. If your Beta 2 invite did not say that you could skip, the option won't be available to you.

Badferret wrote:
I am pretty sure the Skip to 20 option in the beginning tutorial was just that an option, though it might have been easy to click yes into accepting it. Some players in Beta 2 have the option to skip to 20 as well, but this time you need to finish the instance quest which the lowbie zone gives you at level 5/6. If your Beta 2 invite did not say that you could skip, the option won't be available to you.

They had a problem with the skip to 20 and skip to 30 options for a while. If you were around long enough to qualify for these, it appeared you had no option. The way around it (at least for me) was to wait for the instance to time out without selecting either 20 or 30, and you got a level 1.

The other thing I don't understand is the "It's just like WOW..." comments, like WOW invented all the GUI conventions. WOW inherited just as much in standard GUI setup as LOTRO did from it. I was also in the Vanguard beta, and without reading any info, in fact using mostly LOTRO commands, I was able to move around, get a quest, joing a group, complete the quest etc... There are standards now for GUI controls. There is no benefit to being different just to avoid people pointing at you and saying your controls look just like some other games. That shouldn't be a primary criterium for judging a games novelty.

Fedaykin98 wrote:
shihonchic, could you post a link to a good write-up for Warhammer Online? I really have no idea what it's supposed to be like, other than looking like it copies the game that copied it in the first place.

Well ma'am, there have been several interviews with the designers, none of which I will actually google for you because I'm too lazy. Suffice to say, just one feature of Warhammer - enemies that scale in size corresponding to their level - would be enough to sway me from WoW because it does away with something that has been annoying me about MMORPGs since the dawn of time. It has other unique twists, as well, giving me the impression of being a game that the designers are actually being creative with.

Certis wrote:

The bland armor is made worse by the fact that everyone is wearing practically the same thing. The light armor doesn't look much different than the medium, leaving very few distinctions between classes and races. With just seven classes and four races to choose from, the game is teetering on the edge of not having enough variety to appease hardcore players looking for more depth and customization. At a glance, a Minstrel, Champion or Hunter don't look at that different, even at later levels.

I'm ambivalent on this. On the one hand, I'm glad for the realism that not many people should have fancy, stylized, exotic trappings. Armor is made for functionality, isn't it? On the other hand, perhaps minstrels should be the only ones with many bright colros on them. Everything else seems like it ought to be earth tones. You know, like natural dyes would create.

Certis wrote:
Quests are where the game really shines. It may be the most quest-heavy game on the market at launch, leaving players with plenty of solo and group quests to choose from. The Epic Quest line is where the meat of the story is, giving you a story arc that runs along side the journey of the One Ring to Mordor. You obviously won't be the one saving the world, but they do a good job of telling the rest of the story while Frodo and the Fellowship are off trying to get the job done.

What happens once you're stronger than the heroes of the books then?

Certis wrote:
There's still lots to talk about in regards to crafting, which offers the usual sword and armor creation along with more unique approaches like he path of a Historian, gleaning information from old tablets and creating scrolls to help your party.

Oi do loike moi craftses! (But then I was a UO fan until things got crowded.)

Certis wrote:
it raises the bar for what we should expect from MMORPG storytelling.
Thank God.

Montalban wrote:
I just clicked "accept" over and over again, went out and killed/talked/looted, and came back to turn them in. Granted, I was in a hurry to experience as much of the game that I could, but still. I'm so used to ignoring the story in order to get to the "phat lootz" or keep up with my friends that I didn't know why I was doing any of it most of the time.

Hey, does anyone remember my pro-RP rants about why MMOs don't appeal to me?

Montalban wrote:
The crafting seems much more satisfying than most other games as well. Player housing and guild houses are in the works, although won't be ready for launch (maybe Everquest does this, but I've never played it).

Really, sometimes it seems like nobody played UO but me. Were those all bots outside the bank screaming about worthless items for sale?

Montalban wrote:
Each avatar will have a weblog and be accessible outside of the game client, a la BF2.

Seems like this happens with some EVE folks too, but I haven't played that.

Montalban wrote:
Turbine just hasn't done anything innovative with the core game play of a fantasy MMO, which lends it an automatic feeling of "been there done that" to anyone who has spent time in other games already. They justify this by saying that they wanted "accessibility" to all players, and wanted folks to easily slip into the game without a large learning curve.

Seems to me that they went back and looked at what has and hasn't worked in older MMOs and are taking the good and adding to what was lacking. Sounds like a good strategy.

I have been in beta 2 for just a little bit now but here are my very long thoughts on the topic.

I think you be hard pressed to find somebody on these boards that has played MMOs longer then me. I was a beta tester in UO (played release too) and even played precursor commercial products to MMO like Never Winter Nights on AOL and Dark Sun Online (The original DDO).

I am currently playing WoW and about to cancel my account so I can play this game. Now before anybody tries to question my WoW cred I am level 68 in WoW and raided placed like BWL, AQ40, and others 4 to 5 times a week prior to BC with my main.

I play MMOs like any other game and have no problem with canceling an account to play another for a few months to then perhaps go back to an older game to reactivate my account. You know the way we play other games but for some reason people in MMOs think you have to dedicate your life to a MMO instead.

I point all this out so you know where I am coming from with my comments.

So far I have made 1 of each race just to do the very first introduction quest area. All 4 are very solid. I have a guardian (the tank class) to level 15 and a Burglar (the debuffer class) to 16 both humans. I also have played a captain and a champion to about 10.

I like the look of the humans the best but that is just a taste preference.

The thing that strikes me the most difference is this games emphasis on story. If you are not a fan of the story I think you are not going to like this game. As I played the game I find myself trying to complete quests to see what happens next and move the story along versus trying to finish the quest to get the phat lootz.

Unlike a lot of games before, I find myself interested in the quest text and reading the information.

As Certis said I find that the mundane quest types are more "fun" because I am more interested in the game world. I want to kill the 10 brigands to save Bree for example.

As a result of this I am not looking at my xp bar ever or worried about getting to the next level. I am also not out grinding faction, grinding for coin, or farming gear ever. I am out questing and the rest just comes as a result.

I play the game on the Ultra High setting that is every bell and whistle turned on and I think the game world is beautiful. Not only that but it runs smooth and my only problems with running the game are because I am using Vista 64 bit and my hardware manufacturers have dropped the ball on making any sort of decent driver for Vista yet.

I been trying crafting and so far found it to be rather rewarding. As a level 14 character it was very easy for me to forge a weapon that is level 19 and a good weapon at that. What this means is I can actually make weapons that will be useful to me and do so again without grinding.

There are also quests for crafted materials that anybody can get. So say the local armorer needs some armor to support the town troops any player can get this quest. For finishing the quest you get adventuring XP. That makes a market for these goods as players are willing to spend a little coin on the items so they can complete the quests.

Combat is basic MMO fair. LotR does use some things from various games such as reactionary moves (ala DAOC style and since copied by others), conjunctures (very similar to FF XXI), and traits (Sort of similar to WoW talents).

The conjunctures and traits are handled slightly differently then others have done.

Traits are earned through the completion of quests, using a skill enough times, or via what I call trait quests. As you earn traits you pick and choose which of your traits you wish to have active. At low levels you have few enough traits that this is not an issue but as you level up you eventually have more traits then you can have active. So each person may have different traits even though they are the same class. I not played long enough to see if it truly works out this way or if there is the "best" trait build syndrome. There are class traits, race traits, adventuring traits, and I think a couple more all of which you earn in different ways.

I am still messing with conjunctures at this point so can not go into too much detail other then when they happen appears to be totally random. Only a burglar can make a conjunctions happen and currently my level 16 burglar can do so once every 5 minutes. There are 4 options to pick once a conjunction happens (I am not 100% sure on red and yellow):
1. Green – restores party morale (healing)
2. Blue – restores party power
3. Red – damage party target
4. Yellow – damage party target less then red but places a dot on target

Also crafting offers what is called mastering. When you master a crafting level you have a small percentage chance to make and exceptional item. You can up your chance significantly by using special creature dropped items during your crafting process. An example of this is when I make a Steel sword it normally has a 9.8 dps but I have a 5% chance to make a 10.8 dps sword. If I have an decide to use a Bhargest claw while I make my sword it adds another 44% chance to make the exceptional weapon.

Crafting can be rather self-sufficient but to truly master crafting you will need help from another. For example I can make swords, daggers, and the like all on my own with no help but if I want to make a bow or staff I need to get a wood worker to give/sell me treated lumber.

Also it appears you can change your crafting profession by visiting a NPC. I not done the actually change so can not tell you any more then this.

I can tell you the champion, captain, guardian, and burglar feel very different too in game play. Not sure if this continues through the levels but I can tell that the burglar is more to my style of play then other classes.

As others have said quests is where this game shines and I really like what they are doing with instances. Read below for a minor spoiler but a good example of what they are doing.

My greatest worry right now though is can Turbine keep producing the quality story lines to keep people interested.

I think the game is well worth the preorder if you do so from an EBGames retailer or the like. You can place $5 down and for doing so you get 1 month of game play starting 30 March. If you like the game you get to keep your character and have the special pricing plans. Worse case you are out $5 and if you are willing to suspend any current MMO you are playing for that month you will more then likely save yourself $10 for the month why you give LotR a good try.

Even if you pass on the preorder give this game a look when it goes open beta early April.

So if you are a fan of MMOs and tired of grinding away for your next loot/level and rather just enjoy the story this game has a lot of potential. If you love your current game I can not see this game offering you much reason to change.

*****Minor Spoiler******

As a human you start off as a prisoner to some brigands and you have to escape. This is a personal instance that serves as a basic tutorial presented very nicely.

Once you complete this you head to a shared instance that all humans done the tutorial are in and you follow a series of quests that leads to the town being sacked by brigands this takes you to about level 6.

The finally is an instance that you can do solo or with a party and the town that you been questing out of is on fire and being attacked by brigands. It is well done adventure but what happens next is what gives you a taste of what they try to accomplish with instances and the story telling.

When you are done the quest you are not taken back to the happy town you were just in prior to attack but you are now in a burnt down version that is trying to recover from the brigand attack.

Hey, I was in the UO beta too. I didn't go on to play the release because I didn't feel it was ready to ship. (Of course, I played an archer, and archery went from insanely powerful to utterly gimped just before the end of beta.)

How is monster variety? Is it just generic snakes, wolves and bats along with thugs and goblins? Or does it take full advantage of the creatures in the book?

How early in crafting do you have to start using "special" ingredients? How rare are these ingredients? This was a huge problem with crafting in AC2. All you needed was wood or metal up until level 15 when you started needing wasp stingers to make an iron sword. You needed 2 stingers to make a sword and they dropped about 1 out of 50 wasp kills.

Also, how's the leveling pacing? In AC2 due to poor balancing, you could level to 35+ in 3 days.

How robust is the crafting? Can I sit at home in Hobbiton and ply my craft in a peaceful way? Will anybody talk to me if I try?

fangblackbone wrote:
How is monster variety? Is it just generic snakes, wolves and bats along with thugs and goblins? Or does it take full advantage of the creatures in the book?

There are your standard bears, wolves, and boars oh my. But there a lot of LOTR specific mobs, treants, goblins and orcs, some of which are "white hand". Wrights, trolls, Uruk Hai etc. I am quite pleased with the monster diversity.

fangblackbone wrote:

Also, how's the leveling pacing? In AC2 due to poor balancing, you could level to 35+ in 3 days.

In beta 1 I reached lvl 35 with pretty consistent play in about 2 months, but I never felt a grind, and spent most of my time pursuing quest lines.

How early in crafting do you have to start using "special" ingredients? How rare are these ingredients? This was a huge problem with crafting in AC2. All you needed was wood or metal up until level 15 when you started needing wasp stingers to make an iron sword. You needed 2 stingers to make a sword and they dropped about 1 out of 50 wasp kills.

From as far as I can tell in my crafting expereince you do not have to use these special ingredients. Using them just gives you a larger chance of creating a master item. There may be later recipies that need them for special items but so far I yet to see a rare drop required.

As for how rare they are they seem somewhat common but do not quote me on that. I was just selling all this stuff to a vendor without really knowing how useful they were till just lately.

How robust is the crafting? Can I sit at home in Hobbiton and ply my craft in a peaceful way? Will anybody talk to me if I try?

Yes and no. I suppose you could buy ingredients but I am uncertain if only crafters can harvest (which seems to be the case) so not sure how easy that would be to get ingredients. Not sure if you have to be say level 20 to become a journeyman crafter but I not seen any sign of that. I do not really see crafting as being the best thing about the game though so while it seems decent to me I would not say it is the strong point.