Play - Lord of the Rings Online (5 stars)

The return of the ring

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We sent our intrepid reporter, Iain Davidson, to the depths of Middle Earth for a week in the world of Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar

How best to describe Lord of The Rings Online? World of Warcraft in the land of Tolkien? Too simple. Perhaps it’s time to find out for certain by setting forth through Middle Earth. So say hello to my character, Snide the dwarf guinea pig.

Day One

Snide watches his first breath drift over the snowy hills of Thorin’s Gate. What to do, what to do? He scans the assembled dwarves before him, decides on a rough bearded warrior and approaches. Within seconds Snide learns a few basic combat moves from this wrinkled trainer. He now feels more like a dwarf champion. Now to flex these newly tutored muscles. With requests for help strengthening his resolve, Snide explores further into the chill Dwarven lands - lands that are beginning to feel the dark evil that reaches out across Middle Earth.

Day Two

Stronger now, having slain some fauna and even a goblin or two, Snide is feeling more at home. He has earned his first title, ‘Snide the Wary’. This is fitting as he continually tests his strengths and weaknesses. Lacking the stealth of the Burglar or the ranged skills of the Hunter, Snide must simply kill his enemy as swiftly as possible.

Day Three

The bustling caverns of Thorin’s Hall are where Snide sells his spoils of war, gains new skills, sends and receives mail and even gets involved in trade with other adventurers. A simple auction house lets Snide drool over armour and weapons he cannot yet use or afford. Perhaps he could make money by fashioning armour for others? So Snide begins his apprenticeship as a Woodsman. Collecting as he adventures, the potential for profit makes this dwarf happy.

Day Four

Everyone seems keen to give Snide a weapon. ‘Kill dogs and I’ll give you an axe.’ ‘Find my lost mining pick and this cudgel is yours.’ As pleasing as seven weapons in four days are, Snide would swap them all for decent armour. The tasks have been fun, ranging from protecting dwarves to the blackening of steel with Goblin blood. The rough-hewn chambers of Thorin’s Hall will forever be Snide’s home, but the growing call for aid in the rest of Ered Luin becomes hard to ignore.

Day Five

Snide finds a friend. He is asked to slay some goblins in a neighbouring ruins, a task beyond Snide’s skills. Thankfully, a cheery Guardian called Kazzak wanders up. Charged with the same bloody quest, they forge a fellowship of their own, a pale, though earnest reflection of that famous fellowship elsewhere. They make a good team. Much black blood is spilt.

Day Six

The rumours grow about the gathering armies of the Witch King of Angmar, giving meaning to everything the stocky Champion achieves. Snide even gains the use of a Fell Scrying Pool, a magic that allows him to inhabit a member of Sauron’s warring hordes. It would be easy to lose oneself in this illusion, to spend days warring over the Ettenmoors against experienced warriors on the side of good.

Day Seven

Snide has learned much in a week. How to fight; how to learn skills and develop traits. How to make, sell and buy goods. How to make friends and fellowships and how best to fight alongside them. How to play music. And how to become the enemy. But most of all he has learned his place in the world. If the Fellowship is to succeed in defeating the Dark Lord Sauron, warriors like Snide must play their part throughout Middle Earth. And though that may take time, Snide looks forward to it. Particularly if it means wading through more Goblin entrails.

And that is simply the beginning of this dwarf champion’s story. And given there’s a limitless number of tales to forge, Lord of the Rings Online feels like something very special indeed.

Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar (Codemasters) is available now on PC, £29.99 and £9.99 per monthly subscription

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