Lord of the Rings Online

I won't mince words, here: If you've seen any of the movies and come into the early stages of this online roleplaying game, you might be in for a very brief initial letdown.

Sure, the locations will be familiar. The graphics are absolutely glorious, if not just a wee bit too 'cartoony' for my normal tastes. The story and history of the game is accurate, to a fault, and it was truly immersive. It just struck me as a bit 'detached' from the Lord of the Rings tale, at first, despite the wonderful backstory and very in depth area and quest descriptions

But once you developed and played a character for awhile, that initial discomfort will quickly fade. Lord of the Rings Online was a solid, amazingly error-free product, when I played it regular. The world was vast and probably is more so, now: they've added additional content since my time there. The mechanics of the game, its interface, and its battle controls are easy to master and very flexible. There's plenty of risk involved, too, at every level of the game. Survive one battle with a horde of six to eight giant poisonous spiders and you'll certainly FEEL heroic!

The game very carefully 'hand holds' you through the initial tutorial and early levels, moving you from one area to another as your character develops. However, it is VERY possible to break ranks with the quest engine and engage in your OWN direction and purpose, as well. One of my characters was a young hobbit who had the ability to disappear into shadows, almost as if he was invisible. I remember receiving the quest that was to lead me to the distant city of 'Bree'. Now, this was truly a PERILIOUS quest for someone of my 'young' ability level. I couldn't find any automated, quick, easy way to safely conduct the journey. Horses, back then, could be rented, but they only tended to go to areas where you've been or that where immediately adjacent to where you've already been.

Finally, I had to swallow my initial, virtual fear. I realized something, at that moment, I will never forget. This was a GAME. I was here for RISK, for ADVENTURE! Checking my inventory carefully, I set out on foot to reach this far-distant city, through some of the most dangerous (for a fifth level character) territory in the game. Using the in-game map, I pointed myself in the right direction and set off.

The entire journey took hours and was one of the most heart-pounding, most exhilirating times I have EVER spent in an online virtual game! I constantly had to backtrack to avoid monsters that I could not handle on my own, given my young age. Halfway through the journey, I stumbled across an isolated Inn and dashed inside, thinking that I had found a safe refuge. Inside were player characters far FAR higher in level than I was. One of them, a wizard, kept sending me invitations to do battle against his obviously more powerful character.

I kept refusing!

Amazingly, I managed to make it through this dangerous mountain area, and stumble across the road. A few more virtual miles along that path, and suddenly I spotted a lumber camp. Another virtual mile, and I'm within sight of distant lights hanging from a wall - BREE!

If the game supported the animation, my character would have burst out into tears, dropped to all fours, and kissed the road he was on - I had made the journey and escaped in one piece, without dying! To this day, that one adventure, not triggered by any game quest, mission, character, or mechanism, is one of the crowning joys of my online gaming life. I've never been through anything quite the same before, and certainly haven't, since!

If you like the Tolkien tales or the movies, you'll certainly enjoy this online game. It's one of the steadiest, most reliable products I've ever played. If I have any complaints about it all, its about the near-total lack of community within the game (There are guilds, and quite active ones, but they tend to focus 24/7 on player versus player combat) and the annoying carry-over, from past online games, of annoying visual 'markers' floating over the heads of various characters you'll come across.